Wealthy jewellery collectors, movie fans and the just plain curious are training their eyes on this week’s auctions of Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor’s collection of jewellery, haute couture and memorabilia.
And if the monumental exhibition at Christie’s, which was more elaborately staged than many a museum show, is any indication, interest will be sky high. The 10-day sale preview sold out, with 25,000 tickets fetching $30 apiece.
The auctions, which begin on Tuesday night with Ms. Taylor’s world-renowned jewels, “have generated unprecedented presale interest with registrants from all corners of the globe,” said Marc Porter, president and chairman of Christie’s Americas.
“We’re delighted with the worldwide interest in the live auction,” Mr. Porter said. “And participation in the online-only auctions in each category – jewellery, fashion and memorabilia – continues to increase.”
The vast collection of the Hollywood actress, who died in March at age 79, includes some 1,000 lower-priced pieces in a special online auction running Dec. 3-17.
Even the sale’s various catalogues, with some signed special editions priced over $2,000, have virtually sold out.
A world tour of highlights from Ms. Taylor’s collection drew crowds in Hong Kong, Moscow, Los Angeles and London.
Mr. Porter, who worked closely with Ms. Taylor for more than a decade as she made plans for her collection after she was gone, said the star “provided us with the vision of the sale that she wanted, and gave us a specific instruction about her collections that we’ve taken very seriously: “Give them a really good home!”
Ms. Taylor, one of Hollywood’s last great stars, was beloved for her earthiness even as she lived a glamorous life far removed from that of most fans.
As her couture, fine art, decorative objects and accessories hit the auction block in a week of sales expected to raise well over $50-million, it is the Tuesday and Wednesday sales of her jewellery that are most anticipated.
Some 269 diamonds, pearls, rubies, rings, necklaces and even a tiara will be sold, with several of the most valuable, storied pieces tied to Ms. Taylor’s lengthy, complicated romance with actor Richard Burton, whom she married and divorced twice.
Christie’s, with no argument, has billed the assemblage as the greatest private collection of jewellery ever auctioned, trumping even those of Doris Duke or the Duchess of Windsor.
Leading the Tuesday gala evening sale of 89 top lots is Ms. Taylor’s iconic, 33.19-carat white diamond ring, a 1968 gift from Mr. Burton who purchased it at auction for $300,000.
The trustees of Ms. Taylor’s estate have renamed it The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond, and it is estimated to fetch $2.5-million to $3.5-million. But prices for items from other historic estates such as those of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Marilyn Monroe and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor soared many, sometimes hundreds, of times past pre-sale estimates.
Ms. Taylor’s fame, as well as her eye for quality, are expected to drive interest and prices.
“It is her depth of knowledge about fine jewellery that truly impresses,” Christie’s’ international jewellery director Francois Curiel said. “It was clear that she possessed an expert’s eye for craftsmanship, rarity, quality and history. She collected the best pieces from the best periods.”
Among the most historic pieces is a 203-grain (equivalent to 55-carat) pear-shaped 14th-century pearl once owned by England’s Mary Tudor and later by Spanish queens Margarita and Isabel.
Ms. Burton bought it in 1969 at auction for $37,000, and Ms. Taylor commissioned Cartier to design a new ruby-and-diamond necklace mount. It is estimated to sell for $2-million to $3-million.
At the other end of the spectrum, bidders will have a chance at Ms. Taylor’s two, diamond-set wedding bands from her marriages to Mr. Burton, estimated at only $6,000 to $8,000.
From Mike Todd, another of Ms. Taylor’s seven husbands, there is an antique diamond tiara which the star wore to the 1957 Academy Awards at which Mr. Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days won best picture. It is estimated at $60,000 to $80,000.
Some 70 of Ms. Taylor’s most iconic looks will be auctioned on Wednesday night, followed by hundreds of other fashion items and accessories later in the week.
Highlights include a Versace beaded evening jacket arrayed with portraits of the actress in some of her famous movie roles, which is estimated to sell for up to $20,000.
The sunflower yellow dress by Hollywood designer Irene Sharaff that Ms. Taylor wore to her 1964 wedding to Mr. Burton has an estimated sale price of $40,000 to $60,000.
Orson Welles's Oscar returns to auction
Orson Welles’ Oscar for writing Citizen Kane – regarded as one of the best films ever made – is going up for auction again later this month in a hot market for Hollywood memorabilia.
Los Angeles auction house Nate D. Sanders said on Monday it was selling the best screenplay Academy Award statuette won by Mr. Welles in 1942. Although tarnished by age, the Oscar will carry a reserve price of between $600,000 and $1-million when it goes under the hammer on Dec. 20, auction house spokesman Sam Heller said. The statuette – the only Oscar given to Citizen Kane – has a storied history and failed to meet its undisclosed reserve price when it was last up for auction at Sotheby’s New York in 2007. At that time it was expected to sell for around $1-million. But the current seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, and the auctioneer believe times have changed for the better when it comes to selling Hollywood memorabilia.
Marilyn Monroe’s iconic ivory dress from The Seven Year Itch sold for $4.6-million at a Beverly Hills auction in June, while the red-and-black-leather jacket won by pop star Michael Jackson in his Thriller music video went for $1.8-million earlier this year.
“There has been so much movie memorabilia that has been selling for high prices. People are just willing to spend a lot of money to buy these things, whether as an investment or as a collector,” Mr. Heller said.
He said bidders for good Hollywood memorabilia come from as far afield as China, Japan and the Middle East. Mr. Welles’s screenplay Oscar has a story worthy of a Hollywood movie in its own right. The filmmaker had lost it, but it resurfaced after his death in 1985 when it was put up for auction in 1994 by a cinematographer who claimed Mr. Welles had given it to him as a form of payment. Mr. Welles’s daughter Beatrice sued and won back ownership of the golden statue. But she was then sued herself by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the awards, when she tried to auction the Oscar in 2003.
After a legal battle, Beatrice Welles was given the right to dispense of the Oscar, and she sold it to a California non-profit group called the Dax Foundation, who in turn tried unsuccessfully to auction it in 2007. In a bid to stop public sales, the Academy in 1950 introduced an agreement that banned winners from selling their Oscars to anyone but the Academy for the nominal sum of $1. But several pre-1950s Oscars have reached the auction block in recent years, including the best picture Oscar for the 1939 film Gone with the Wind that was sold for a record $1.54-million in 1999 to Michael Jackson. Citizen Kane, a 1941 drama about the ruthless pursuit of power, which Mr. Welles also directed and starred in, regularly tops U.S. and British lists of the greatest film of all time.