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The Taylor-Burton Diamond

Up next in our series on the world’s twelve most famous diamonds is the Taylor-Burton, worn by the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor herself.

Wrapped in a fiery tale of romance
Named after Holywood’s most legendary acting couple, the story of the Elizabeth-Burton Diamond measures pretty high on the Richter scale of romance.

Taylor fell in love with the 68 carat, pear shaped gem after it was privately flown out to her in Switzerland to examine before going on auction at Parke-Bernet in New York in 1969. Determined to win it for his wife at the time, Burton entered a heated bidding war, charging his lawyer, Aaron Frosch, to act on his behalf and setting an upper limit of up to $1M.

The first $1M diamond
To his consternation, Burton was outbid. The winner of the sale was Robert Kenmore from Kenmore Corporation, the parent company of Cartier, who paid $1,050,000 – beating the previous record set in 1957 for the highest price of a jewel at public auction by $745,000. The first million-dollar diamond then also became the first official ‘Cartier Diamond’, as a proviso of the sale stipulated that it could be named by its buyer.

Upon hearing the news, Burton later wrote in his diary that, though Elizabeth claimed she did not mind, “I turned a raving maniac”. Using a pay phone at the Bell Inn in Buckinghamshire, where the couple were staying at the time, he immediately called Frosch and instructed him to purchase the diamond at whatever the price. Burton later describes screaming: “Bugger Cartier, I was going to get that diamond if it cost me my life or 2 million dollars – whichever was the greater.”

Never to be outdone
After spending the entire next day waiting by the phone, he eventually received confirmation from Frosch that the sale had been successfully negotiated at $1.1M, and the diamond was renamed the Taylor-Burton. Kenmore did not deny that Cartier made a profit from the deal, remarking: “We’re businessmen and we’re happy that Miss Taylor is happy.”

A battle worth fighting for
“I wanted that diamond because it is incomparably lovely… and it should be on the loveliest woman in the world”, Burton later remarked.

Yet Taylor and Burton weren’t the only ones enamoured by the stone’s sparkling allure. Kenmore agreed to the sale under the condition that the diamond would first go on public display at Cartier’s stores in New York and Chicago, to which an estimated 6,000 people flocked a day in order to view the celebrated gem. It also made a star appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show during this period.

The decoy
Afterwards, the diamond was flown out under armed guard to Monaco where Burton and Taylor were staying on their private yacht, the Kalizman. The journey was carefully planned taking a total of three weeks and, as an added security measure, involved the help of three men each carrying identical briefcases – only one of which contained the diamond.

A $1M insurance policy was also secured with Lloyd’s of London. Due to the value of the gem, the policy specified that Taylor could only wear it in public for up to 30 days a year – and even then, under the protection of security guards.

The Taylor-Burton made its debut appearance a few days later worn by Taylor as a pendant necklace to Princess Grace’s fortieth birthday celebration at the Scorpio Ball in Monte Carlo. This was teamed with the 33.19 carat Krupp Diamond, which Burton had bought for her the year earlier, and her $14 ‘Ping Pong’ diamond, which she won in a game of ping pong against him.

Only diamonds last forever
Taylor and Burton’s love for one another was notorious for being as turbulent as it was passionate, with Burton claiming two of Taylor’s eight marriages. After they divorced for the second time, Taylor sold the diamond in 1979 to Henry Lambert, a jeweller from New York, to help raise funds for the construction of a hospital in Botswana.

A thing of beauty
While your own diamond ring may not need a $1M insurance policy, every diamond should be thoroughly protected against the heartbreak of loss or damage. Our specialist jewellery insurance policies are fully underwritten at Lloyd’s of London in order to provide you, like Taylor, with complete peace of mind.

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