Film star's gems set to dazzle Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 November, 2011, 12:00am


One of the most highly anticipated jewellery auctions this year will be in New York next month, but fans of the late Elizabeth Taylor will be able to see a preview of the pieces from Friday to Sunday at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Eighty pieces from the collection of the celebrated film star, fashion icon and humanitarian will be up for auction on December 13, with 189 more jewels for sale the next day.

The man calling for bids and banging the hammer will be Francois Curiel, international jewellery director and president of Christie's Asia. He is excited and nervous about the sale. He has fond memories of the Hollywood actress. He met her for the first time in September 1998 and even wrote the foreword to Taylor's book, appropriately entitled My Love Affair with Jewelry.

'I was in her house at 9.30 in the morning inspecting the jewellery when, at about 11am, I started hearing voices coming from the first floor,' Curiel recalls. 'She came down and sat down with me and was eager to discuss jewellery with someone in the business.

'Normally, collectors are very proud of their collections, but aren't extremely knowledgeable about their pieces, so they ask experts what they think of them. With Elizabeth Taylor, she was fascinated with jewellery and she knew everything - she knew the makers, the period the piece was made and the geographical provenance. For example, sapphires can be from Kashmir, Burma or Ceylon [now Sri Lanka], and she knew the ones from Kashmir are the best, but also knew that lower-quality ones could be found there too. She also knew how a diamond was cut and she would point at a diamond and say, 'look at this 33D-carat diamond, it's so bubbly and lively'.'

Curiel was quickly impressed by Taylor's extensive knowledge of jewellery in general. 'She was very attached to each of her pieces and she knew the story of each one, who had given it to her or where she purchased it. She labelled each box and organised them on trays.'

He says she was as interested in costume jewellery as she was in diamonds and the quality of the stones. 'She loved all her pieces, whether they were worth US$200 or US$6 million. She seemed to care for all of them.'

While Taylor amassed more than 1,000 pieces, she was always curious to see more pieces or learn of new designers. 'When I would see her or speak to her, she would always ask when the next sale was and what I would recommend,' Curiel says.

Curiel says she was not a collector with a specific style that evolved over the years, but instead was very eclectic. Among the pieces to be auctioned is a pearl from the 16th century called La Peregrina that she reset into a ruby and diamond necklace. 'She bought the best and she bought the pieces she liked,' Curiel says.

He cannot even begin to estimate how much Taylor's collection will fetch in New York, though an estimate has been set at more than US$30 million. Part of the proceeds from the sale will go towards The Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation. Curiel says the response to the auction has been crazy. 'I've had so many requests asking for catalogues, plus people asking me to reserve seats. We had massive lines for the previews in Los Angeles, Moscow, Tokyo and London.'

When jewellery pieces are up for auction, he says there are three things to consider.

'First it's the value of the stone - the four Cs of carat, cut, colour and clarity. Then it's the value of the mount as an item is worth more if it is signed by top jewellery houses such as Cartier and Bulgari.

'The third factor is provenance. Was it owned by Louis XVI? An actress? At that point, anything goes. The price is not based on the stone or the mount any more. For example, the 33D-carat Elizabeth Taylor diamond is almost flawless and worth US$4.5 million, but at auction the price could be much more.'

Pieces sold at the Windsor sale in 1987 are still fetching more than their intrinsic value. Sometimes at a celebrity auction the price is so high that it takes a while for the price to be absorbed. Curiel cites the example of the golf club bag once owned by John F. Kennedy that sold for US$750,000. Is it still worth that much today?

Nevertheless, Curiel says the Windsor pieces that went on to be resold achieved higher prices when corrected for inflation and the value of the dollar. And with the Taylor jewels, it sounds like a sound investment indeed with star power attached. Fans in Hong Kong can get a sneak preview of the auction pieces on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10.30am to 3.30pm daily at Hong Kong Convention Centre in Wan Chai.