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Taylor auction a real gem as sales top $157 million

Buyers have been snapping up Elizabeth Taylor's jewels, art, outfits and memorabilia, with total sales topping $150 million from online and in-person auctions.
/ Source: Reuters

Auctions of Elizabeth Taylor's collection of jewels, gowns, art and memorabilia broke records last week on their way to totaling more than $150 million worth of live and online sales, Christie's said on Monday.

Four days of live auctions in New York and a 10-day online auction from the Hollywood film legend's collection took in a total of $156,756,576, or more than three times expectations.

Taylor's world-renowned collection of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, emeralds and more accounted for the vast majority of the haul, selling for a combined $137 million and becoming by far the most valuable jewelry sale ever.

With two Academy Awards, eight marriages and a long history of AIDS activism, Elizabeth Taylor was a Hollywood icon.

Records were set for pearls, emeralds, and Indian jewels, while per-carat records were broken for a rubies, yellow, and colorless diamonds.

"My mother always acknowledged that she was merely the temporary custodian of the incredible things she owned," said Taylor's son Chris Wilding, who is a member of the Elizabeth Taylor Trust.

"My family is proud that our mother's legacy as a celebrated actress, tireless AIDS activist, and accomplished businesswoman touched so many people's lives that they wanted to have a part of it history," he said.

Taylor's couture gowns and apparel sale also set a record for the most valuable private collection ever sold at auction, taking in more than $5 million including commission.

The marathon sales' statistics spoke for themselves and highlighted the worldwide interest in the Hollywood legend who rose to fame as a young star of the movie "National Velvet" and went on to claim two acting Oscars for "BUtterfield 8" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."

Taylor, who died in March at age 79, lived a glamorous life of numerous marriages to often wealthy and powerful men who lavished her with jewelry and other fine things.

Tabulating Taylor

Among the highlights of the sale: every one of the 1,778 lots offered sold; 26 items sold for more than $1 million and six sold for over $5 million; final prices soared to as many as 400 times their pre-sale estimates; bidders at the live auctions spanned 36 countries.

Since September, some 58,000 visitors viewed highlights of the collection on a world tour that stopped in Moscow, London, Dubai, Paris and Hong Kong, with nearly half that total paying $30 to see the offerings at New York's 10-day exhibition.

The online component alone took in nearly $10 million, with more than 57,000 bids.

Even catalogs — some signed, limited edition offerings priced at more than $2,000 — were a hot item. Proceeds of a portion of the exhibition, catalog and other related events went to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

The top price paid during the series of auctions was $11,842,500 for the historic La Peregrina, 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.

Taylor's husband Richard Burton bought the pearl in 1969 at auction for $37,000, and Taylor commissioned Cartier to design a ruby-and-diamond necklace mount. The piece was estimated to sell at $2 million to $3 million.

Taylor's famous 33-carat diamond ring, another Burton gift now renamed The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond, went for $8.8 million, setting a per-carat record for a colorless diamond.

Even the star's charm bracelets drew intense competition, with one estimated at $30,000 soaring to more than $325,000.

Similarly, the top lot of the online auction — Hiro Yamagata's "Portrait of Elizabeth Taylor" from 1991 — sold for $108,000, against a pre-sale estimate of about $250. Other top prices paid online for ranged from $45,000 $78,000.

Among memorabilia, Taylor's script from "National Velvet" fetched $170,500, against a $2,500 estimate.

More artwork from Taylor's collection will also be offered in February at Christie's in London during its auctions of old master paintings and Impressionist and modern art.