Elizabeth Taylor’s passion for glamorous jewels was legendary. Over the years she amassed a remarkable collection from the great houses—Bulgari, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and more. The jewels and diamonds were gifts from husbands, lovers and friends, and many she purchased for herself right up until she died at age 79 in 2011.
One of Taylor’s most famous jewels was the Taylor-Burton diamond. It’s unforgettable as much for its beauty and size—a 69.42 carat pear shape diamond—as for the romantic story of how Taylor’s husband Richard Burton chased it down for the love of his life.
Taylor owned the diamond for less a decade (after divorcing Burton, she sold it in 1979), and yet it’s still mainly referred to as the Taylor-Burton diamond. Perhaps it is because people remember a great diamond—especially when it is tied to a great romance.
The story begins in 1966, when a 240 carat rough was uncovered at the DeBeers owned Premier Mine in South Africa. With an eye for exceptional diamonds both rough and polished, American jeweler Harry Winston bought the stone. After months of studying it with his lead diamond cutter Pastor Colon Jr., the two agreed on a plan. The rock was cleaved in two, with the larger half planned to be cut into a perfectly proportioned 60 plus carat pear shape diamond and set in a ring.
Winston sold the unusually large pear shape diamond to Harriet Annenberg Ames, the sister of Walter Annenberg, former United States ambassador in the United Kingdom. But she didn’t keep it for long. In 1969, Ames brought it to New York’s Parke-Bernet Galleries to sell at auction.
Burton, who had been famously buying lavish jewels for Taylor, was interested in the mega diamond. At the time it was one of the largest pear shape diamonds ever to come to market. After expressing his interest, Parke-Bernet brought the diamond to the couple, who were at the time vacationing in Switzerland, to preview it. They wanted it.
On auction day October 23, 1969, the room was packed with dealers and media. Burton sent a representative to the bid on the stone. He put a cap of $1 million on the purchase price, which at the time was an exorbitant amount. Word is that Harry Winston was also bidding on the diamond that day. Ultimately both were outbid by Cartier, whose representative won the stone for $1,050,000.
Burton wasn’t one to lose out on a show-stopping jewel. The next day, he contacted Cartier and purchased the diamond for a reportedly $1.1 million. But there were terms around the sale: Cartier created a big publicity moment with the mega diamond and Hollywood’s most high-profile couple. What became the Taylor-Burton diamond was put on display for a week at the store’s Fifth Avenue Mansion, drawing the attention of nearly 6,000 visitors.
According to Marion Fasel at The Adventurine, “When the jewel was sent to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, an elaborate security plot was devised including three men with identical suitcases being dispatched from Cartier as decoys. One delivered it to the couple on their yacht Kalizma in Monaco. They were anchored in the tiny principality to attend Princess Grace’s Scorpion themed 40th birthday party at the Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo.”
Taylor requested Cartier create a diamond necklace with smaller pear-shaped diamonds to showcase the large stone. She wore the diamond draping her décolletage when she presented the Best Picture award at the 1970 Oscars. That epic moment was televised for all to see, further solidifying her position as Hollywood’s most glamorous and electrifying star.
Like so many Hollywood couples, even the Taylor and Burton’s fiery romance fizzled out. After the couple divorced in 1976, Taylor sold the diamond three years later and donated part of the proceeds to help build a hospital in Botswana. Throughout her life, she was widely known for her generous philanthropy.
As Taylor once said, “I have never thought of my jewelry as trophies. I’m just here to take care of them.”
The Taylor-Burton diamond was sold to the New York jeweler Henry Lambert for reportedly $3 million. He then sold the diamond to the jeweler and dealer Robert Mouawad, who later sold it to a private collector. The diamond’s whereabouts are unknown today, but a stone that famous will likely resurface again.
Similar sized pear shape diamonds have recently come to the auction block, which gives us an indication of what the Taylor-Burton diamond might be worth today. The Chrysler Diamond, a 54.03 carat D internally flawless pear-shaped diamond, sold for $5 million at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels, New York on June 8, 2021. And, Sotheby’s sold a 62.65 carat D color pear-shaped diamond for $2.9 million at its Magnificent Jewels, New York on December 7, 2021.
While those stones are similar in size and shape, the Taylor-Burton has a provenance and love story that makes this diamond even more desirable and valuable. Hey, everyone loves a good romance story with a big diamond.