On holiday in 1957 Mike Todd presented Dame Elizabeth Taylor with the now infamous Ruby Suite – a ruby-and-diamond bib necklace complete with matching earrings and bracelet, cut from platinum gold...
On holiday in 1957 Mike Todd presented Dame Elizabeth Taylor with the now infamous Ruby Suite – a ruby-and-diamond bib necklace complete with matching earrings and bracelet, cut from platinum gold. At the time, Taylor was in the swimming pool wearing a tiara by Cartier that Todd had given her previously. Without access to a mirror, she used the reflection of the water to see her new prize jewels. “The jewellery was glorious,” Taylor would recall, “rippling red on blue like a painting. I shrieked with joy, put my arms around Mike’s neck, and pulled him into the pool after me. It was a perfect summer day and a day of perfect love.”
The Elizabeth Taylor necklace marks her short-lived marriage with film director and producer Mike Todd, best known for his 1956 production of Around the World in Eighty Days. He was the 3rd of Taylor’s 7 husbands and regarded as the one who she loved the most, a union tragically cut short when Todd was killed in a plane crash in 1958 in his private jet, the Lucky Liz.
Many believe it was Todd who started Taylor’s love affair with jewellery, although she maintained that it had been a life-long obsessjon: “My mother says I didn’t open my eyes for eight days after I was born, but when I did, the first thing I saw was her engagement ring. I was hooked!”
“My mother says I didn’t open my eyes for eight days after I was born, but when I did, the first thing I saw was her engagement ring”
Much of her collection was designed by Taylor herself in partnership with Cartier. The afore-mentioned bib necklace, which can also be worn as a crown, is on display at The Art of Cartier exhibition, which, in one of the largest shows to date, houses over 400 historic pieces.
The collection tells a story of Cartier and also of the wider history of the 20th century. In the twinkle of a Panther clip brooch bought by the Duchess of Cambridge in 1949, we remember her scandalous affair with the Prince of Wales, who was forced to abdicate the throne to marry her. In the slither of a platinum white gold snake necklace, we recall flamboyant actress María Félix, the most iconic in Mexican cinema. It also features pieces gifted to Coco Chanel and Grace Kelly.
And yet, in the jungle of reptiles and wildcats, nestled in tiaras, clocks and bangles, there is a sense of poignancy about the jewels. “In truth, we “owners” are just the caretakers,” Elizabeth Taylor once commented, “If you’re a collector, I think you’ve got to be willing to share… we are only the guardians.”
The Art of Cartier opens at Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, on October 23.
Text by Mhairi Graham