Age of austerity? £74m spent on Taylor's bauble collection

Asian buyers fuel record bids for glittering array of Hollywood star's diamonds and pearls

Los Angeles

She famously said that "big girls need big diamonds," and she admired engagement rings so much that no fewer than eight, of varying extravagance, were added to her collection over the years.

Little could Elizabeth Taylor have guessed how fulsomely today's moneyed elite would share her flamboyant tastes, though in a few short hours on Tuesday night, the contents of the late screen siren's jewellery boxes were sold at auction for no less than $116m.

The figure, roughly £75m, was more than twice the amount ever realised by a single person's collection of baubles. And despite the topsy-turvy state of the world's economy, individual items in the sale set new records for the price of pearls, colourless diamonds and Indian jewels.

At Christie's in New York, the extraordinary success of the sale was being put down to two factors: a huge number of bids from moneyed Asian buyers, and enduring fascination in the human stories behind Taylor's prized possessions.

A case in point was the so-called "Elizabeth Taylor Diamond", a stone weighing in at no less than 33 carats which had been a gift from the Hollywood starlet's most famous husband, Richard Burton, in 1968, four years into their first marriage. Originally bought by Burton for $300,000, the ring sold on Tuesday for $8.8m, three times its estimate and a record for a colourless stone. The buyer was one Daniel Pang, a businessman from South Korea who was bidding on behalf of Eland World, a conglomerate that plans to exhibit the piece in one of its luxury hotels.

Another gift from Burton to Taylor fetched a record $11.8m. Called "La Peregrina", it is a 50.6 carat, drop-shaped pearl, which belonged to a succession of Spanish kings between 1582 and 1808. It was sold to him by Verdura, a New York jeweller, for $37,000, in 1969.

Ward Landrigan, who worked for Verdura at the time, recalled yesterday how the pearl, a Valentine's Day gift, went missing on the night that he delivered it to the couple's Las Vegas hotel suite. It had been dropped onto a pink, deep-pile carpet, and was eventually discovered in the mouth of Ms Taylor's lapdog.

"She had this white Lhasa Apso dog," Mr Landrigan told Bloomberg News. "I saw the dog under a chaise. It was chewing on the pearl." Regarding the frenzied bidding for lots in the sale, he added: "No one has seen anything like this... It's like money means nothing."

Other high-profile items to smash their pre-sale estimates included a diamond bracelet which had been a gift from Taylor's friend Michael Jackson, which went for $194,500, and the Taj Mahal diamond, a 40th birthday present from Burton, went for $8.8m, a record for an Indian jewel.

Taylor, who died in March, aged 79, is succeeded by four children, who will share in the proceeds. Her Aids Foundation will also benefit.

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