“Bulgari is the only word Elizabeth knows in Italian,” actor Richard Burton once famously remarked. He was, of course, referring to screen legend Elizabeth Taylor, whom he fell in love with on the set of Cleopatra (1963), and would later marry and divorce — twice.
Tumultuous relationships aside, Taylor was well-known for her extravagant jewellery collection, which featured sparkling diamonds and gemstones in all shapes and colours, and designs from nearly every prominent jewellery brand one could think of. Her favourite jeweller of all time, though, was Bulgari. Burton indulged her love for the Italian label’s creations, presenting her with lavish pieces ranging from an emerald and platinum necklace (as a wedding gift in 1964) to a flamboyant sapphire sautoir for her 40th birthday.
Come September, both jewels will be amongst over 500 Bulgari creations that will go on display at the Moscow Kremlin Museums in Russia. Titled Tribute to Femininity, the retrospective exhibition will take place from 7 September to 13 January 2019, and traces Bulgari’s legacy through the years — as well as the many Hollywood female icons who have flaunted its designs.
Taylor’s resplendent sautoir is enough reason to visit the showcase. The necklace features a massive octagonal pendant festooned with a juicy 65-carat sugarloaf cabochon Burmese sapphire and encrusted all over with diamonds and smaller sapphires.
If that isn’t dazzling enough, the platinum sautoir also comprises hexagonal and rhomboid motifs ornamented with an assortment of brilliant-cut diamonds and calibrated sapphires. Its pendant is detachable and can be worn as a brooch. So besotted was Taylor with the necklace that she wore it to several occasions, including Burton’s 50th birthday party.
In 2011, the Bulgari sautoir made its way to Christie’s auction block as part of a sale of Taylor’s jewels, and was estimated to fetch between USD 600,000 to USD 800,000 (S$818,000 to S$1,090,000). Its eventual selling price? A jaw-dropping USD 5,906,500 (S$8,043,767), with Bulgari placing the winning bid.
A couple years later, the jewel resurfaced in the limelight at yet another high-profile outing — the red carpet of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Actress Jessica Chastain paired it with a chunky Bulgari Trombino ring, which featured a sugarloaf sapphire of over 25 carats flanked by baguette diamonds and set against pavé brilliant-cut diamonds. Fun fact: The ring also once belonged to Taylor, who had purchased it herself. Aptly enough, Chastain wore these sapphire stunners to a screening of Cleopatra.
Today, the necklace is part of the Bulgari Heritage Collection, a treasure trove of some 600 jewels, each with a rich history and intriguing backstory. Several items from this collection, such as a gold diamond necklace worn by Ingrid Bergman in The Visit (1964) and a ruby necklace spotted on Sophia Loren in Prêt-à–Porter (1994), will also be presented at the upcoming Tribute to Femininity exhibition.
Other highlights of the show include a 1935 aquamarine and diamond tiara worn by Infanta Beatriz of Spain on her wedding day. There will also be sections exploring Bulgari’s Parentesi jewels, its first modular collection, and key elements like its Serpenti snake-inspired motif and Tubogas technology.
(Main photo: Town & Country; Featured photo: Everett Collection)