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The Taylor-Burton Diamond

Richard Burton purchased the 69.42 carat, inch thick diamond from Cartier for $1.1 million, making it the world’s most expensive diamond at the time. According to Burton, Elizabeth wanted the ring after he insulted her hands. “That insult last night is going to cost me,” Burton wrote in his diary before purchasing the gem. Betcha!” However, acquiring the gem would prove more difficult than he initially imagined.

Richard had a limit of one million he was prepared to spend on the ring, but after a fierce bidding war that included Aristotle Onassis, the ring was sold to Cartier for $50,000 more than his top price. Burton was livid! He made a deal with Cartier, who sold him the ring for $1.1 million; making a $50,000 profit on a ring they had owned for about a day. One stipulation of the purchase was that the ring would be displayed at Cartier boutiques in New York and Chicago. Burton agreed, and 10,000 people lined up each day to see the gem [that] was guarded by a machine gun (not surprising as the ring was sold because it had posed a security risk to its owner, the sister of the US envoy to Britain).

When the newly renamed Taylor-Burton diamond was finally in Elizabeth’s possession, she originally wore it as a ring, but, because of its mammoth size, later decided to have Cartier suspend it from a £40,000 necklace. It was finished just in time for Elizabeth to wear it to Princess Grace’s fortieth birthday—but first it had to be delivered. Three men (two of them decoys to throw off any potential jewel thieves) made the trip to the Burtons yacht, the Kalizma, carrying the gem. Lloyd’s of London, who insured the diamond, specified that when wearing the Taylor-Burton in public, Elizabeth must be protected by security guards carrying machine guns.

Before Elizabeth wore the gem as a necklace, it guest starred with the Burtons on an episode of Here’s Lucy, and was also at the centre of a humourous exchange between Elizabeth and the late Princess Margaret of England. “Is that the famous diamond? But it’s so large—how very vulgar!” “Yes,” said Elizabeth. “Ain’t it great?” Margaret then asked to try on the huge stone. “It doesn’t look so vulgar now, does it?” remarked Elizabeth.

In order to help finance husband John Warner’s senatorial candidacy, Elizabeth decided to part with the Taylor-Burton diamond. In June 1979 the diamond was sold to a new owner for $3 million dollars. “It was large and very heavy,” said Elizabeth. “Anyway, I hadn’t worn it for ages. It represented a different phase in my life, the fun and camp phase.” Elizabeth has since admitted regret in selling the diamond.

Back to Her Love Affair With Jewelry.

Elizabeth Taylor Archives © Copyright 2001-2009 Andrew Budgell