Rahul Kadakia met Elizabeth Taylor at an auction in Cannes in 1999. “I was a young boy and here was Miss Taylor, Hollywood star and humanitarian, and she was right there beside me, helping me raise funds for the American Foundation for Aids Research,” says Kadakia. “I thought, you know, this is the mark of a real star.”
Now head of Christie’s U.S. jewelry department, Kadakia finds himself organizing the auction of Taylor’s famous jewelry. “She was very, if had to use one word, approachable.”
I saw Elizabeth Taylor myself when I was a kid. My parents had season tickets to Wolftrap Farm Park in 1977, the year she hosted their opening gala. As I recall, she lured an all-star lineup to the sticks that night – Sammy Davis, Jr., Liza Minelli, Henry Fonda – and wore a flowing green caftan to camouflage the weight she was gaining, probably bored out of her mind as a senator’s wife in Virginia. (Just a few years earlier she and Richard Burton were dodging paparazzi along the Riviera). But she was still a Hollywood queen, a major draw, and it was thrilling to be in her presence.
One of those green caftans is up for sale at Christie’s, a later model (1989) that Liz wore to Malcolm Forbes’ 70th birthday party, part of the online-only sale Christie’s announced yesterday – 950 items estimated between $100 and $10,000 – that will take place Dec. 3-17. You can see highlights from the sale here and, starting on November 18, the full catalog.
Yes, you too can own a piece of Hollywood legend for as little as $100. You don’t even have to pay the $30 admission Christie’s is charging to peak at the more fabled goodies, like the Peregrina pearl, that will go on the block during the glam gala evening sale on December 13. It seems Liz also wore costume baubles, such as a JAC Deco-style bracelet and earrings (est. $100-200) and a turquoise squash blossom necklace (est. $400-600).
Like the last sale of her jewels at Christie’s, this one will benefit her favorite cause. Proceeds from the catalog and exhibition will go to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Here’s a bit more from my interview with Rahul Kadakia:
I imagine you’ll get huge crowds for this sale, right?
I hope so! Yeah, all around Rockefeller Plaza here in New York.
Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry shows she was interested in history as well as the big rocks she was famous for. How would you characterize this collection?
It’s fabulous in its range. It goes back to the 17th century, but even when she bought contemporary jewelry on her own, she went to the master, Joel Arthur Rosenthal. There’s a beautiful pair of sapphire and diamond ball ear clips by JAR in the sale.
When she purchased, when Richard Burton purchased, when Mike Todd purchased, when Eddie Fisher purchased, they purchased the best. And this is the underlying fact about the entire collection. They purchased from the best periods, they purchased from the best jewelers, they purchased the best quality.
You just named a lot of men. I wonder if they got into competition with each other. You couldn’t give this woman ordinary jewelry.
Look, I’m not Richard burton or any of the other guys so I don’t know what was behind the purchases. What I do feel from the way the collection has been put together is that no matter who she was with, at whatever point of time in her life, all of the jewels were bought because of great moments in time that she shared with all of these men. And you see this in her own words in the book [My Love Affair with Jewelry], when she talks about all of the purchases. They were happy times, birthdays, an anniversary or she’d just become a grandmother at 39.
There’s a great suite of Cartier diamond-and-ruby jewelry in the sale which Mike Todd gave to her one afternoon at poolside when they were on vacation and she famously put it all on, jumped into the pool and started doing laps.
Her jewelry tells a lot of stories. What’s the most important story – is it about a bygone Hollywood era or a love story?
It’s about a Hollywood star, a Hollywood queen and her way of life. She referred to these jewels as her friends and her babies. And they were part of her life from very early on, right until the end. I think they reminded her of her really superb life in terms of the Hollywood star and in terms of the loves she had in her life, the families that she created through all of these times.
Are there any overlooked pieces, anything that we aren’t expecting?
There’s a lot of jewelry. We’re going to have 80 lots in the evening sale on December 13. These are more or less all of the iconic pieces, all of the jewels that she’s seen photographed in, so not too many surprises there but that really is the epicenter of the collection.
Then we have close to 200 pieces in the day sale and there are a lot of nice jewels in there that are at a different price point, things like a mirror that was made by Bulgari in the 1950s with a Egyptian revival theme, bought when she was filming Cleopatra. It’s a fabulous object. So you have interesting pieces and jewelers and objects and memories all through the sale. People will be surprised.