The past ten days have seen an influx of visitors totaling 3,000 a day at Christie’s at Rockefeller Center with lines stretching to Sixth Avenue. All these people were trying to catch a glimpse of the incredible estate collection of late screen legend Elizabeth Taylor. The commotion will culminate tonight as the first of five sales of jewelry, fashion and memorabilia go to auction. Concurrently, another thousand lots will be offered online in this rare and historic sale of magnificent proportions.
The intense star power wielded by Taylor, who once said “I can’t remember a day when I wasn’t famous” has had an incredible response from the public. The collection is the close to being America’s Royal Jewels and follows in the precedent of last summer’s McQueen exhibit at the Met, in presenting a complete retrospective of style and fashion opulence. The venture undertaken by Christie’s, was pre-arranged with Elizabeth Taylor herself, before her passing last spring. The preview blends the line of auction house and museum, with $30 admission cost to the general public and historic objects included to contextualization the collection. Her accessories closet is recreated in one room; every outfit paired with the jewelry and purse as originally worn by the iconic actress. In another hall, her Oscar awards are displayed alongside the jewels donned that evening, though the golden statuettes are not for sale but there to present a complete image of her life.
The most remarkable aspect of the sale is the offering of the most personal and legendary jewelry and artifacts of her life. Perhaps later tonight someone will own the 33.19 carat namesake diamond, (estimated $2,500,000-3,000,000) which never left her finger and was a present from her twice-husband Richard Burton. The legacy of the Spanish royal court, the Pelegrina pearl, the largest of its kind found in a private collection and whose provenance lists eight Spanish kings and Napoleon, is estimates at $2,000,000-3,000,000. It art world terms, it is the jewelry equivalent of suddenly having the contents of the MoMA go to the auction and people confronted with determining the worth of Starry Night or Demoiselles d’Avignon.
The estimates for the whole estate are generally conservative, as they do not account for the premium of the ‘star’ quality and history of the lots, which makes the sale more appealing since it almost seems to democratize and distribute Taylor’s consummate opulence and regal glamour. One can find a vintage feather Valentino clutch is estimated for $300 and the embellished Versace and Dior kaftans valued at a $2,000-$4,000. These prices may easily be surpassed but they add an element of excitement since the objects seem within reach, with dozens of lots estimated under $500. Even the Christie’s brochure for the sale advertises the online auction have “Estimates start at $100…all lots offered without reserve” along with detailed instruction on the bidding process. It is apparent that Christie’s is expecting many novice bidders and new entrants into its client database.
The sale presents her most valuable and iconic pieces, which defined not only her style but a distant era of American Golden-Age. At times it feels almost uncomfortably personal – and greedily voyeuristic of the viewer to have so much insight into her life, and one wonders why some of the objects did not remain within the family. All of the sales’ proceeds are going to her estate and a portion will be donated to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Accompanying the sales, Christie’s produced seven catalogues and books, one edition actually signed by Taylor herself. Now the only question remaining is which lucky women will enter into the legacy of the sovereign jewels and walk out tomorrow night agleam with diamonds.