$116 million auction of Liz Taylor jewels breaks record

Wed Dec 14, 2011 2:51pm EST
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An auction of actress Elizabeth Taylor's world-renowned jewels took in $116 million, more than double the record for a single collection, and set new marks for pearls, colorless diamonds and Indian jewels.

Christie's sale of 80 items from Taylor's collection on Tuesday had been estimated to raise about $20 million. But everything from her famous 33-carat diamond ring, a gift from Richard Burton, to her charm bracelets sold for many times their estimates.

Just halfway into the four-hour sale, the Taylor items broke the record for a single-owner jewelry collection set in 1987 when the Duchess of Windsor's jewels sold for just over $50 million.

The pattern was set early on, when one of the most historic pieces, a 203-grain (equivalent to 55 carat) pear-shaped 16th-century pearl, once owned by England's Mary Tudor and later by Spanish queens Margarita and Isabel, sold for $11.8 million including commission, setting an auction record for a pearl.

Burton, who married Taylor twice, had bought the pearl in 1969 at auction for $37,000, and Taylor, who died in March at age 79, commissioned Cartier to design a ruby-and-diamond necklace mount. It had been estimated to sell for $2 million to $3 million.

But from the very first item, a charm bracelet estimated at about $30,000, it was clear the Taylor cachet was delivering beyond expectations. The bracelet fetched $326,500.

Minutes later an ivory and gold necklace featuring theater medallions soared to more than 100 times its $1,500 to $2,000 estimate, selling for $314,500.

The trend continued unabated, right up until the final offering -- Taylor's famed 33.19-carat diamond, which Burton had bought for $300,000 in 1968.   Continued...