“I introduced Liz to beer, she introduced me to Bulgari,” Richard Burton famously said during the filming of Cleopatra in 1963 in Italy. Elizabeth Taylor’s love affair with jewelry was no surprise to the world. She was said to have famously changed diamonds necklaces faster than she changed husbands. Burton (whom she married twice in a decade’s long turbulent affair) showered her in jewels for no occasions. He gave her “It’s a beautiful day, I love you” diamond necklaces, “It’s Tuesday, I love you” emerald rings and “You’re beautiful” sapphires on a regular basis. Burton wanted to keep her by endlessly spoiling her. To him it was better to be broke then to lose the woman dubbed “the most beautiful woman in Hollywood”. She was also the highest paid actress of the time.
Though Elizabeth Taylor’s collections ranged from Cartier brooches to royal tiaras bought in auction, she had a particular addiction for Bulgari. It was even rumored that she had requested the Italian jewelry brand to wait around the set of Cleopatra with their latest collection, just so she could go shopping in between takes. During the newly engaged couple’s stay in Italy, they would take walks to the Bulgari flagship on Rome’s Via Condotti. There, Burton would purchase anything she wanted: pendants, rings, watches, diamonds. Despite having hundreds of pieces, Liz was not negligent of any piece, and she kept them all with care and love. She was, in fact, a connoisseur who knew clarity, value and even the technical side of jewelry making.
Hearsay says that Richard Burton bought so much jewels for the actress between the early 60s to the mid 70s that he was in a financial crisis, borrowing money from family and friends just so that Liz could have her weekly dose of glitter and frost. Of course, one should take this with a grain of salt. After all, it is Hollywood we’re talking about, and stories on Liz and Dick have turned into hammy exaggeration over the years.
Christie’s dubbed Taylor’s collection as one of the most impressive ever assembled by a single person. The popular auction house was commissioned the task to the sell everything at auction after her death. Curators commented that it was the most glorious array of jewels in a single collection since that of Miss Wallace Simpson’s, the American socialite who married a British monarch. Worth an estimated $30 million, her diamonds, rubies, pearls, sapphires and emeralds were all auctioned off in a two-day session in New York City (this included Cartier, Harry Winston, antique pieces, and of course—Bulgari). Don’t fret on all Liz’s lost stones and gold. She actually wanted this happen, stating in the 2002 memoir My Love Affair with Jewelry, that she hoped that whoever would own them after her death, would give them a good home.
Some of Liz’s most famous Bulgari pieces included the emerald brooch she wore in 1960 as a hair accessory in the film The V.I.P.s. She would also occasionally wear her emerald necklace, an engagement gift to her from Richard Burton. It can be seen on Liz during Oscar night 1967, when she accepted the Best Actress statue for her performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Her Bulgari platinum sapphire and diamond pendant combination is also sight to behold. It was given to Taylor by Burton for her 40th birthday in 1972. “The only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari,” he would tell friends after making a lavish purchase. In one vintage photograph on the set of Cleopatra, she wore one of the first iconic Serpenti watches (still being sold at Bulgari today) which has mysteriously disappeared.
Today, many are still fascinated with the late actress’s legendary addiction to Bulgari jewels. Unfortunately, like her iconic Serpenti piece, many from Liz’s collection are still missing from the public eye. Many believe they were sold off during Burton’s rumored financial crisis. It is a mystery that Bulgari itself is trying to solve and uncover. The jewelry brand has even hired a team of professionals to track down all of Liz’s priceless pieces so that it can be properly archived. One thing is for sure, stories like this are stuff legends are made of.
By Chino R. Hernandez