With (the albeit virtual) red carpet season on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to bring up the ultimate time-tested icon of glamour, Elizabeth Taylor, obviously. After all, just the mention of her name elicits imagery of the unforgettable characters she portrayed, her infamous violet eyes and, of course, extensive jewelry collection.
Taylor’s life-long fascination with all things bling can best be described as a love affair with natural diamond jewelry. But one stone in particular stands out amongst all of the treasures she amassed: The Krupp Diamond.
The Krupp Diamond: Where it All Began
Though not much is known about this famous diamond’s history prior to the early twentieth century, experts have surmised that it could have originated in India’s storied Golconda region or South Africa’s famed Jagersfontein Mine. Also, due to the stone’s cut featuring a large open culet and rectangular shaped corners (often referred to as an Asscher cut), it’s believed to have been faceted sometime before 1920.
Confirmed as Type IIa, a rare classification that refers to a stone’s chemical purity, structural perfection and absolutely colorless nature, The Krupp Diamond joins some of history’s most celebrated, like the Cullinan Iand the Koh-i-Noor, in its “blue white” trade classification, a nod to optical superiority. Although graded by the Gemological Institute of America as D colorless and VS1 clarity, reports state that the Krupp Diamond was “potentially internally flawless”, meaning that just a slight recutting could further improve the already impressive stone.
The Iconic Diamond’s First Owner
A German actress named Vera Krupp was the first known public owner of the diamond, receiving it in the form of a brilliant ring from her wealthy industrialist husband sometime between 1952 and 1956. After a very public divorce, Vera moved to America, making her new private homestead the 500 acre Spring Mountain Ranch outside of Las Vegas. Said to be a glamorous and ostentatious woman, Krupp would often be seen wearing the large natural diamond jewel whenever she ventured into town.
But that all changed in 1959 when the diamond ring was stolen directly from her finger during a robbery at the ranch. Over the next six weeks, the FBI tracked and traced its whereabouts literally across the country. Finally, the ring’s tapered baguette-cut accent stones were recovered from a St. Louis area jeweler and the prized center stone found in New Jersey where a local grocer was attempting to shop around “a big diamond”. Once all of the diamonds were recovered and returned, Krupp had them reset in their original platinum band by Harry Winston.
Not to be trifled with, Krupp became more vigilant after this whole affair: she became deputized by the local sheriff and even built a secret passageway and room on her estate. A local Las Vegas journalist reported that after the incident she would attach the ring with a safety pin to her bra strap at all times, even while riding Sweetheart, her favorite horse, around the ranch.
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There’s a New Owner in Town
After Vera’s passing in 1967, the 33.19 carat diamond went up for auction at Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York City. On May 16th, 1968 after a bidding war with Harry Winston himself, actor Richard Burton purchased the diamond ring for the hammer price of $305,000, the highest price paid at auction for a diamond ring at the time. Burton presented it to Elizabeth Taylor as a surprise gift on their yacht Kalizma while it was moored on the River Thames near London, where the couple was celebrating a new business venture
Hailing from an era before stylists were en vogue, Taylor often dressed and styled herself. She was known to wear her magnificent jewelry collection in both stage and screen performances, plus personal appearances she deemed appropriate. Over time, Taylor’s persona became so intertwined with jewelry that in 1993 when she guest-starred as herself in FOX’s season four finale of The Simpsons, she was animated wearing the Krupp Diamond; America watched as Elizabeth Tayalor, the cartoon, wore the jewel doing chores, polishing her Oscar award and even staring into its reflective facets after she cleaned it with a toothbrush.
From “Krupp Diamond” to “Elizabeth Taylor Diamond”
After Taylor’s passing in 2011, her estate put the iconic ring up for auction at Christie’s along with 80 additional items from her collection. The sale was to benefit her eponymous foundation that supported many charities and medical research.
The auction kicked off with a showing of one of Taylor’s home videos in which she sunbathes by the pool and (to laughter from the audience) says, “It looks as if everything is going to sell much higher than the estimated prices, doesn’t it darling? Keep bidding!” Turns out Taylor’s foresight couldn’t have been more accurate: on the auction’s first night alone, nearly every piece sold above its highest estimate for a total of $116 million dollars. The Krupp Diamond ring, which Christie’s aptly renamed “The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond”, sold to a Korean retail company for over $8.8 million.
That evening, a world record was set for a private jewelry collection at auction and another famous natural diamond went into the history books.