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Dame Elizabeth Taylor was one of the most famous jewelry collector of her time, with a collection featuring virtually every important gemstone and jeweler. Today, we’ve got a closer look at a very July-appropriate set: her Cartier Ruby Suite.
The rubies were a gift from Elizabeth’s third husband, film producer Mike Todd. The story goes that, while on holiday with friends in the south of France in the spring of 1957, Elizabeth was swimming laps in the pool wearing the diamond tiara that Todd had previously given to her. (As one does!) Suddenly Todd appeared, laden down with red leather jewelry boxes. Inside were several diamond and ruby pieces he’d purchased for his young wife at Cartier. (Note the red box wedged under his arm as he clasps the necklace for her.)
Jewelry-mad Taylor, naturally, was delighted with the gift. A home movie camera captured her reaction. Because there weren’t any mirrors handy outside the villa, she reportedly used the pool’s surface to help her see her reflection wearing the new pieces.
The couple had only been married for a few months. Taylor had divorced her previous husband, Michael Wilding, in January 1957, and she and Todd had wed in Acapulco on February 2, 1957. She was twenty-four; he was forty-seven. But he time he presented her with these rubies on the Riviera, she was already expecting a baby.
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Todd was at the pinnacle of his career when he married Taylor. In 1956, his most successful production, Around the World in Eighty Days, had been a major hit at the box office on its release. It won the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture in February 1957, just a few weeks after he married Taylor. Only a few weeks later, in March 1957, he accepted the Academy Award for Best Picture for the film, with Taylor beaming in her tiara by his side. By July 1957, Todd and Taylor had arrived in London for the film’s glittering British premiere at the the Astoria Cinema, Charing Cross Road. Taylor wore red, including her rubies, as she and her husband greeted fellow guests, including Lady Pamela Berry, one of the famous “Bright Young Things” set.
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Taylor’s rubies sparkled as she met with the royal guests at the premiere, the Duchess of Kent (with whom she’s speaking in the photo above) and Princess Alexandra. The Associated Press breathlessly reported, “Yards of crimson chiffon trailed from her sun-bronzed shoulders to the floor. Her ruby and diamond earrings and necklace glittered.” The gown was by Dior.
By this point, the news had gotten out that a Taylor-Todd production was on the way, and in this photo from the premiere night, the two are caught in a romantic embrace in their car as they escaped a rain shower. Todd was reportedly particularly careful with her at the premiere, and she commented, “He worries too much about this baby. I hope it’s a girl. I am sure the world is not ready for another Mike Todd yet.” The baby, born in August, was indeed a girl, Elizabeth Frances Todd. And Mike Todd himself wasn’t long for the world: he died when his private plane, The Liz, crashed in New Mexico in March 1958. Taylor married again, this time to Todd’s best friend, the singer Eddie Fisher. If you scroll back up to the footage of Elizabeth modeling her new rubies, you’ll spot him in the pool behind her.
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Elizabeth Taylor famously married a total of eight times. She kept the jewelry each man lavished on her for her entire life, and she wore the pieces well into her final years. Here, in September 2001, she wears Mike Todd’s rubies as she attends a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York.
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When she died in 2011, much of her incredible jewelry collection was auctioned at Christie’s to raise money for AIDS research. Above, you’ll see the Cartier rubies (plus a diamond and ruby ring by Van Cleef and Arpels) on display during a press preview for the sale in December 2011. When the hammer fell at the auction, each of the three pieces fetched an impressive sum. The earrings sold for $782,500, and the bracelet for $842,500 — but it was the necklace that reached the most impressive amount, selling for an astonishing $3,778,500.