A huge pearl once worn by European royalty and last owned by Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor sold for a record $11.84 million at a blockbuster auction in New York on Tuesday. “La Peregrina,” depicted in art works over the centuries and coveted by kings and queens, was bought for Taylor by her actor/husband Richard Burton in 1969.
Suspended from a Cartier necklace, the pearl had been estimated to sell by Christie’s for $2-3 million but the figure shot up in fierce bidding, reaching the highest price for any pearl jewelry at auction.
The pear-shaped white pearl was a highlight of Christie’s sale of the legendary jewelry and fashion collections amassed by Taylor, the so-called “Crown Jewels of Hollywood.”
The actress, who died in March at the age of 79, had seven husbands during her glamorous life, countless admirers and a passion for jewelry.
An emerald and diamond necklace by Bulgari went for $6.1 million, catapulting over the pre-sale estimate of $1-1.5 million. Perfectly matching the stunning piece were a Bulgari brooch at $6.6 million and a set of ear pendants at $3.2 million, estimated before the auction at a maximum of $700,000 and $200,000 respectively.
Another big seller was a Van Cleef & Arpels diamond ring at $2.3 million, while Bulgari pearl and diamond ear pendants fetched $2 million.
The sale of Taylor’s belongings follows a public viewing that attracted thousands to the New York auction rooms.
“It is by far the greatest jewelry collection to be offered in a century,” said Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas.
Live sales were to be held through Friday. Running concurrently was an Internet-only sale of nearly 1,000 items such as jewelry and accessories like designer handbags.
Hundreds of haute couture dresses from Chanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Valentino, Versace or Yves Saint Laurent, jackets, caftans, handbags and other accessories were on sale and they tell both the story of the star and also the changes in fashion during her eventful career.
The dress Taylor wore to her first marriage was predicted to go for between $40,000 and $60,000.
It would be hard, however, to match the beauty and history of “La Peregrina.” Apart from its remarkable size — 203 grains, the equivalent to 50 carats — and association with the Taylor and her equally glamorous husband, the pearl comes with a story matched by few necklaces.
Discovered in the 16th century in the Gulf of Panama, one of the first recorded owners was King Philip II of Spain. It passed on to the Spanish queens Margaret and Elisabeth, who proudly wore the pearl in 17th century portraits painted by Velazquez.
The treasure went into French hands in the 19th century when Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, briefly ruled Spain. Richard Burton paid $37,000 at auction, outbidding a member of the Spanish royal family.