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Taylor-Burton Diamond: Legends In Gems

Elizabeth Taylor loved love. She loved to be loved.

Unfortunately her love came to her in the form of handsome rogues.
Luckily they were very wealthy and loved to shower her with gifts.
With 8 marriages, 7 husbands, and a décolletage designed to display diamonds, Elizabeth was not so lucky in love, but her jewelry collection was infamous.

Sitting pretty, rolling the diamonds of her Cartier necklace through her fingers, she pondered her unruly heart and its wild ways.

“Men come and go, but diamonds truly are forever!” Anouk Colantoni for The Stone Set

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To put our own shiny spin on Valentine’s Day, we continued Legends In Gems, our ongoing holiday collaboration with New York-based illustrator and stylist Anouk Colantoni, to shed more light on one of the most famous diamonds in the world, the Taylor-Burton diamond, and its keeper, the larger-than-life Elizabeth Taylor.

Elizabeth Taylor is a woman after our own hearts. Beyond being a cinematic icon of Old Hollywood, Taylor was one of the most avid jewelry collectors in history. While nearly all of her jewelry was well-publicized and momentous, arguably her most famous piece was the historic Taylor-Burton diamond. The rough stone was found in South Africa at a staggering 241 carats and was cut into a pear-shape at 69.42 carats by Harry Winston. Its first owner was Harriet Annenberg Ames. The woman-about-town found the diamond to be cumbersome, and she was scared to walk around New York with such a large and extravagant piece of jewelry visible.

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Rather than let it gather dust, Ames chose to auction off the diamond in 1969. A heated bidding war ensued with Aristotle Onassis, Harry Winston, Cartier, and Richard Burton vying for the diamond. Robert Kenmore, then the owner of Cartier, won with at a price of $1,050,000—at the time, a staggering price that was declared the first million-dollar diamond. Cartier coined the diamond “The Cartier Diamond” and intrigue stemmed from there.

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Shortly thereafter, Cartier heard from a disgruntled under-bidder at the auction, one Richard Burton. Negotiating from a pay phone at a hotel in England, Burton, his lawyer, and Cartier’s owners worked out a deal for Burton to own the diamond for $1.1 million. Burton was supposedly overheard telling his lawyer, “I don’t care how much it is; go and buy it.” In return for the ownership transfer, Burton would allow Cartier to display the diamond in Chicago and New York. These exhibits attracted over 6,000 people a day to view the storied stone, a display of excess which the New York Times looked down upon.

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Three armed guards (two of which were decoys to throw off potential thieves) flew with the diamond from New York to Italy. Due to its gargantuan size, Taylor commissioned Cartier to turn the ring into a more wearable necklace. Taylor debuted the glittering stone at Princess Grace’s fortieth birthday party. Following her divorce from Burton in 1978, Taylor put the diamond up for sale and allocated the $5 million in proceeds towards building a hospital in Botswana.

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Who owns the diamond now? Diamond dealer Robert Mouawad purchased it in 1979 and had the stone recut to 68 carats after he found a few rough edges. -Jenna Fain for The Stone Set

Illustration by Anouk Colantoni.

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  • Brianna

    This is one of my favorite Stone Set articles to date — but I love them all so it’s hard to choose <3