$116 million auction of Liz Taylor jewels breaks record

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.

Selling for $8.8 million, or about three times the estimate, it set a per-carat record for a colorless diamond.

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The colossal rock, which has been renamed The Elizabeth Taylor diamond, was bought by South Korean businessman Daniel Pang, who was bidding on behalf of Eland World, a South Korean concern.

Pang said the conglomerate owns several hotels and plans to exhibit the diamond, as it has done in the past with historic memorabilia from the estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

In a statement on Wednesday, the actress’ son Chris Wilding said his mother would have been pleased with the auction.

“She would be happy to know that her wish for her jewelry to be owned and enjoyed by others was fulfilled,” Wilding said.

Christie’s officials also were ecstatic with the results, which followed a monumental 10-day exhibition of Taylor’s jewelry, couture, art and memorabilia that sold 25,000 tickets at $30 each.

Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas, said the auctioneers knew the sale was going to do very well, given Taylor’s lavish tastes and worldwide fame as one of the last great Hollywood stars.

“This truly is one of the greatest jewelry collections in the world,” he told Reuters. “But in my wildest dreams, I did not think we would outsell the estimate by five times.”

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Marc Porter, Christie’s Americas president and chairman, said the auction was “one of the most extraordinary sales Christie’s has ever had.” He called it “a testament to the love of Elizabeth Taylor worldwide” as well as to her collecting ability.

Other highlights included the Taj Mahal diamond, another gift from Burton, marking Taylor’s 40th birthday. It sold for $8.8 million, a record for an Indian jewel.

The per-carat record for a ruby was also broken, by Burton’s Van Cleef & Arpels ruby-and-diamond ring, a 1968 Christmas gift. Another record, for a tiara, fell when third husband Mike Todd’s 1957 gift to Taylor sold for $4.2 million, about six times the estimate.

The Taylor auctions continue on Wednesday when the actress’ haute couture, including the dresses she wore from her two weddings to Burton, will be sold.

Online auctions of some 1,000 lower-priced items from Taylor’s estate are running concurrently.

Reporting by Chris Michaud; editing by Doina Chiacu