Retro Review-- Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry


I'm fortunate to have some very important pieces of jewelry. I don't believe I own any of the pieces. I believe that I am their custodian, here to enjoy them, to give them the best treatment in the world, to watch after their safety, and to love them. --Elizabeth Taylor 

Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry
Elizabeth Taylor
Simon & Schuster 2002

The 33.19-carat Krupp diamond. The 69.42-carat pear-shaped Taylor-Burton diamond. Burmese rubies and diamonds from Cartier. An emerald and diamond suite from Bulgari. This is just a tiny portion of Elizabeth Taylor's epic collection of jewelry, made up of hundreds of lavish pieces.

I've never thought much about fine jewelry before reading Taylor's biography of her massive collection. I love my wedding ring, because it is my grandmother's diamond and my husband and I designed it together. Other than that, I've never had or desired any other jewels. That's why it surprised me how mesmerized I was by the astounding pieces in Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry.

I ordered the book from the library after reading Furious Love, the biography of Taylor's relationship with Richard Burton, last year. The passages in that book about Taylor's jewelry collection fascinated me. She and Burton would just casually wander into a jewelry store and drop thousands of dollars on a whim. Normally, this sort of behavior would disgust me, but I got wrapped up in their obsession with the jewels. I could see how the beauty and history of the gems impressed them as much as the game of obtaining them.

Taylor and Burton, her partner in jewelry collecting
It especially interested me that Taylor didn't consider herself the owner of her jewels, but rather a temporary custodian. She took that responsibility with varying levels of gravity, wearing her most expensive pieces with anything, from a lavish evening gown to a bathing suit. And yet despite my fascination with the collection, I was still a bit baffled by the money even this fabulously wealth couple would spend these adornments. Why would you buy something that you could only wear in public if you brought along a couple of security guards with machine guns? I don't think I'll ever fully understand that.

The book contains 125 photographs of her jewelry, several accompanying shots of Taylor wearing the pieces and some of her memories of specific pieces in the collection. The photo captions shared more history of the pieces, which I found a great complement to Taylor's memories. I loved reading her thoughts about the jewelry, because while she adored the jewels themselves, she also looked upon them as mementos of the people she loved, famous men like Mike Todd, Richard Burton, Michael Jackson and Malcolm Forbes.

What surprised me the most was how mesmerized I was by the photos of the jewelry. I had no idea how elaborate the designs could be. Up close, I could admire the artistry of each piece. They didn't seem so frivolous to me when I saw the craftsmanship that went into every detail. It is fascinating to see what jewelers are capable of creating. I accepted that skill as an art for the first time.

Taylor with Eddie Fisher, wearing earrings from Mike Todd
The variety of Taylor's pieces is also impressive. There's the many kinds of stones: emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds are just the beginning. And the different kinds of designs, from elaborate formations sometimes designed in part by Taylor, to flowers and animals. I especially liked the monkey suite that Jackson bought his long-time friend.

Taylor also had a trio of rings with tiny diamonds, one as small as 1/8 of a carat, which she called the Ping-Pong Diamond. She loved wearing that with the Taylor-Burton diamond, her smallest and largest pieces, and joking about them when she went to parties.

That sense of humor about the jewels, and the fact that Taylor would let anyone admire, touch and even wear her jewelry endeared her to me. She really did just want to share all that beauty with the world. After seeing the gorgeous photos of those pieces and reading a bit about their history, I can understand why she would want people to see them and delight in their beauty with her.

Photos from Classic Film Scans, Cover image from Good Reads

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