Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Taylor-Burton Diamond

The Taylor-Burton diamond


This is the best known of Richard Burton's jewellery purchases for Elizabeth Taylor. This is a 69.42-carat pear-shape diamond. It was cut from a rough stone weighing 240.80 carats found in the Premier Mine in 1966 and purchased by Harry Winston. Here there is a coincidence: Eight years before, another cleavage of almost identical weight (240.74 carats) had been found in the Premier. Harry Winston bought this stone too, commenting at the time, "I don't think there have been half a dozen stones in the world of this quality." This wouldn't be the first time the Premier Mine would have the last word because the 69.42-carat gem cut from the later discovery is a D-color Flawless stone.

After the rough piece of 240.80 carats arrived in New York, Harry Winston and his cleaver, Pastor Colon Jr. studied it for six months. Markings were made, erased and redrawn to show where the stone could be cleaved. There came the day appointed for the cleaving, and in this instance the usual tension that surrounds such an operation was increased by the heat and glare of the television lights that had been allowed into the workroom. After he had cleaved the stone, the 50-year-old cleaver said nothing -- he reached across the workbench for the piece of diamond that had separated from it and looked at it through his horn-rimmed glasses for a fraction of a second before exclaiming "Beautiful!" This piece of rough weighed 78 carats was expected to yield a stone of about 24 carats, while the large piece, weighing 162 carats, was destined to produce a pear shape whose weight had originally been expected to be about 75 carats.

The stone's first owner after Harry Winston wasn't Elizabeth Taylor. In 1967 Winston sold the pear shape to Mrs. Harriet Annenberg Ames, the sister of Walter Annenberg, the American ambassador in London during the Richard Nixon administration. Two years later, she sent the diamond to Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York to be auctioned explaining her decision with this statement: "I found myself positively cringing and keeping my gloves on for fear it would have been seen, I have always been an extremely gregarious person and I did not enjoy that feeling. It sat in a bank vault for years. It seemed foolish to keep it if one could not use it. As things are in New York one could not possibly wear it publicly." One might argue the stone was too large to be worn in a ring, let alone in public.


Elizabeth Taylor wearing the Taylor-Burton Diamond in a necklace
by Cartier featuring a number of smaller pear-shaped diamonds.


The diamond was put up for auction on October 23rd, 1969, with the understanding that it could be named by the buyer. Before the sale speculation was prevailing as to who was going to bid for the gem, with the usual international names being kicked around by the columnists. Elizabeth Taylor was one name among them and she did indeed have a preview of the diamond when it was flown to Switzerland for her to have a look at, then back to NYC under precautions described as "unusual". The auctioneer began the bidding by asking if anyone would offer $200,000, at which the crowded room erupted with a simultaneous "Yes". Bidding began to climb, and with nine bidders active, rushed to $500,000. At $500,000 the individual bids increased in $10,000 increments. At $650,000 only two bidders remained. When the bidding reached $1,000,000, Al Yugler of Frank Pollack, who was representing Richard Burton, dropped out. Pandemonium broke out when the hammer fell and everyone in the room stood up, resulting in the auctioneer not being able to identify who won, and he had to call for order. The winner was Robert Kenmore, the Chairman of the Board of Kenmore Corporation, the owners of Cartier Inc., who paid the record price of $1,050,000 for the gem, which he promptly named the 'Cartier'. The previous record for a jewel had been $305,000 for a diamond necklace from the Rovensky estate in 1957. A diamond, known as the Rovensky (actually thought to possibly be the Excelsior III Diamond), attached to the necklace weighed approximately 46.50 carats. It appeared in an article about diamonds in the April 1958 issue of National Geographic magazine, along with the Niarchos, Nepal, and Tiffany Yellow. As well as Richard Burton, Harry Winston had also been an under-bidder at the sale. But Burton was not finished yet and was determined to acquire the diamond. So, speaking from a pay-phone of a well-known hotel in southern England, he spoke to Mr. Kenmore's agent. Sandwiched between the lounge bar and the saloon, Burton negotiated for the gem while continually dropping coins into the phone. Patrons quietly sipping their drinks would have heard the actor's loud tones exclaiming "I don't care how much it is; go and buy it." In the end Robert Kenmore agreed to sell it, but on the condition that Cartier was able to display it, by now named the Taylor-Burton, in New York and Chicago. He did not deny that Cartier made a profit, stating "We're businessmen and we're happy that Miss Taylor is happy." Shortly afterwards on November 12th, Miss Taylor wore the Taylor-Burton in public for the first time when she attended Princess Grace's 40th birthday party in Monaco. It was flown from New York to Nice, Italy in the company of two armed guards hired by Burton and Cartier.

In 1978, following her divorce from Richard Burton, Miss Taylor announced that she was putting the diamond up for sale and was planning to use part of the proceeds to build a hospital in Botswana. In June of 1979 Henry Lambert, the New York jeweller, stated that he had bought the Taylor-Burton Diamond for $5,000,000.

By December he had sold the stone to its present owner, Robert Mouawad. Soon after, Mr. Mouawad had the stone slightly recut and it now weighs 68.09 carats. Before the recutting, the curved half of the stone's girdle had a very round outline, it is now a little more straight at that end. It also had a small culet, which was made even smaller after the recut.

Sources: Famous Diamonds by Ian Balfour and My Love Affair With Jewelry by Elizabeth Taylor.

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