How to Wear Jewelry Like Elizabeth Taylor

Six tips on making the most of your jewelry box from the woman who did it best.

Elizabeth Taylor in 1957

How to Wear Jewelry Like Elizabeth Taylor

Her love life was epic. Her jewelry, even more so. The sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection at Christie’s in 2011 was the most valuable sale of jewelry in auction history.

But what makes Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry so extraordinary isn’t just its value. It’s how much she loved it and how well she wore it. “It would be very glamorous to be reincarnated as a big ring on Elizabeth Taylor’s finger,” Andy Warhol famously said. She lent the jewels some of her star power.

We all need a little more inner Elizabeth Taylor to remind us to sparkle in the spotlight. Here’s how to channel your inner gem diva and grab some of the spotlight for yourself.

Tip #1: Wear Jewels in the Pool

It’s 1957 at a villa outside Monte Carlo. Elizabeth Taylor is pregnant and swimming laps in the pool. The August sun sparkles on her diamond tiara. Her husband Mike Todd, soon to die in a tragic plane crash, surprises Elizabeth with a breathtaking ruby necklace and matching earrings. She puts them on, laughing in the sunlight and looking at her reflection in the water.

It’s a perfect moment: the woman, the moment of happiness and love, the pool, the jewelry. Not kept in a safe. Enjoyed.

So next time you head to the beach, don’t leave your diamonds behind. If you have a tiara, wear it in the pool.


Tip #2: Size Doesn’t Matter

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were very competitive. One day playing ping pong at their house in Gstaad, Richard bet Elizabeth that if she could score 10 points on him, he’d buy her a perfect diamond. With that incentive, she scored 30 points, so they headed out to a local jewelry store.

Richard bought her the smallest perfect diamond he could find: one-eighth of a carat, along with two other small diamond rings. She loved to wear the Ping Pong Diamond along with her massive 69-carat Taylor-Burton Diamond. When people said “What a magnificent diamond,” she would show them the petite Ping Pong ring and say “isn’t it perfect?”

So it doesn’t matter how big the diamond is, what matters is how much you enjoy wearing it. Ultimately, it’s the story that matters. That’s why the mini Ping Pong Diamonds sold for $134,500 at auction.


Tip #3: It’s Not What You Wear, It’s How You Wear It

Elizabeth Taylor was never content just to wear a necklace or ring. She wore brooches on her shoulder. Or her décolletage. But her best innovation was the way she wore necklaces and brooches in her hair.

For the Proust Ball in 1972, she wore her own emeralds and diamonds in her hair and added more diamond necklaces on loan from Van Cleef & Arpels. Perhaps the most extravagant hair ornament appears in a 1960s portrait of Elizabeth by Firooz Zahedi: she wears La Peregrina dangling onto her forehead. La Peregrina was once owned by Queen Mary I of England (daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon).  The pearl was a wedding present from her husband, King Philip II of Spain.  After her death the pearl was returned to Crown of Spain and stayed with the Royal Family for 250 years. La Peregrina later sold for $11.8 million, a world record for a pearl.

The next time you get dressed, try adding one surprising sparkle in an unexpected place. Somewhere she’ll be smiling down on you.

Tip #4: Keep it Real

Elizabeth always kept it real. When filming her famous White Diamonds perfume commercial, Elizabeth borrowed millions of dollars in diamonds from Louis Glick worth $6 million. Diamond Information Center representative Lynn Ramsey, who tells the tale in Dishmag, carried the borrowed bling down to the location outside Acapulco, Mexico. In the commercial, Elizabeth throws a diamond earring down on the poker table saying “These have always brought me luck.” Lynn, worried the earring might break, gently suggested that they might use a fake earring stand-in for the scene. Elizabeth said “I only play with real diamonds.”

She learned that lesson from Mike Todd. Shopping in Paris, chandelier earrings caught her eye in a shop window. Elizabeth wanted them even though they were paste. A few weeks later she took them out to put them on and discovered Mike Todd had recreated the earrings in dazzling real diamonds.

So in the game of life, play by Elizabeth’s rules and keep it real.

Tip #5: Share the Sparkle

Elizabeth was famous for letting people try on her jewelry.

When Princess Margaret said that her 33-carat diamond ring was so big it was vulgar, she offered to let the princess try it on. When she did, Elizabeth said, “It’s not so vulgar now, is it?”
Elizabeth wrote a book called “My Love Affair with Jewelry,” sharing photos and the stories behind her most spectacular jewels.

I think today, she’d love to show off her jewelry on Instagram. Or on Gem Gossip’s Show Me Your Rings blog posts. So don’t keep your sparkle to yourself, take a picture of your jewelry and share it today. She’d be proud.


Tip #6: Pay It Forward

Although she loved her jewelry collection, Elizabeth knew her ownership of fabulous jewels like La Peregrina, the Taj Diamond, and the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond was temporary. She planned that they would be auctioned off after her death.

“I hope that whoever buys each piece loves it as much as I do and takes care of it and realizes that having jewelry is a temporary gift,” she said. “Nobody ever owns anything this beautiful. We are only the guardians.”

It would have no doubt pleased her that the sale of her jewels broke so many records. Buyers at her auction included the famous, like Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Tilly. But Taylor would be most pleased that buyers included jewelry design houses like Bulgari, Tiffany & Co., and Lorraine Schwartz because these jewelers will show the pieces in exhibitions and even on red carpets. Julianne Moore and Jessica Chastain have already worn Bulgari necklaces on the red carpet.

You can admire several of her favorite jewels, including two Bulgari necklaces and a brooch owned by Jennifer Tilly up close at the De Young Museum in San Francisco in The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond: 1950-1990 until February 17, 2014.

For a little while, everyone who visits the exhibit can channel their inner Elizabeth Taylor and share the sparkle.



Photo credits: Elizabeth Taylor image by Jack Garofalo, Paris Match, via Getty Images. Tiara and Ping Pong Rings courtesy Christie’s. Bulgari necklaces courtesy De Young Museum.