29 March 2018

Tiara Thursday: Elizabeth Taylor's Cartier Ruby Necklace Tiara

Elizabeth Taylor's Cartier Ruby Necklace Tiara
Elizabeth Taylor called Mike Todd, her third husband, one of the two great loves of her life. Their marriage lasted just 13 months before it was cut tragically short by Todd's death in a plane crash in New Mexico. Those months were filled with the 47-year-old theater and film producer showering his 24-year-old superstar wife with glittering gifts of jewelry, including a tiara (the Mike Todd Tiara).

The necklace
One of his most spectacular “just because” gifts was a suite of diamond and ruby jewelry by Cartier, a set anchored by a spectacular bib necklace made in 1951 of oval-, cushion-, and round-shaped rubies with baguette- and round-cut diamonds. The rubies are set in gold and the diamonds are set in platinum, and the necklace was accompanied by matching earrings and a matching bracelet.

The bracelet
The earrings
Todd gave Taylor her rubies in August 1957, at a villa the couple were renting in the south of France. She described the moment in her book, My Love Affair with Jewelry:
"When Mike gave me the rubies I was pregnant with Liza. We had rented a villa, La Fiorentina, just outside Monte Carlo near St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, about three months into our marriage. The most beautiful house you've ever seen. Actually, I rented it twice - once with Mike and once with Richard. I was in the pool, swimming laps at our home, and Mike came outside to keep me company. I got out of the pool and put my arms around him, and he said, ‘Wait a minute, don't joggle your tiara.’ Because I was wearing my tiara in the pool! He was holding a red leather box, and inside was a ruby necklace, which glittered in the warm light. It was like the sun, lit up and made of red fire. First, Mike put it round my neck and smiled. Then he bent down and put matching earrings on me. Next came the bracelet. Since there was no mirror around, I had to look into the water. The jewelry was so glorious, ripping red on blue like a painting. I just shrieked with joy, put my arms around Mike’s neck, and pulled him into the pool after me. It was a perfect summer day and a day of perfect love."
That gleeful moment of jewelry delight was caught on home video (below).

Taylor wore the ruby set for big events during her marriage and afterward. The whole Cartier suite was included in the landmark auction of her jewelry and other treasures in 2011 by Christie’s.

The fevered bidding at the auction brought in astonishing prices for most pieces, well above their estimates. The Cartier ruby suite commanded close to $5.5 million total, with $3,778,500 paid for the necklace alone. The set is now back in the Cartier collection.

Now that the piece is with Cartier, another function of the necklace is highlighted once again: it can also be worn as a tiara!

The necklace as a tiara, modeled by Niki de Saint Phalle
The necklace was originally designed in 1951 and was modified in 1953 to double as a tiara (all occurring before Todd bought it in 1957). As necklace-to-tiara conversions go, the triangular bib shape is perhaps not the most natural fit, but it does make a strong impression – and it’s undeniably ruby, when many other ruby tiaras are light on the red stones. I think it looks like something you’d see in an animated Disney princess movie, which is not necessarily a bad thing in my book.

As a tiara: yes, or sport it as a necklace and leave it be?

You have a chance to see these rubies in person, should you happen to pass by the National Gallery of Australia in the next few months. Cartier: The exhibition runs from March 30 through July 22 and includes this necklace plus a whole lot of other sparklies and tiaras like the Hesketh Aquamarine Tiara, the Cartier Essex Tiara, and the Cartier Halo Tiara on loan from Queen Elizabeth II (so if you had that one in your royal wedding tiara pool, you’re going to be out of luck). The Williamson Diamond Brooch is also on loan from the Queen to this exhibition. Check it out if you can!