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Tue 11 Oct 2011 03:58 PM

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Burton-Taylor romance puts sparkle in diamonds auction

Christie’s sale of Liz Taylor’s jewellery expected to raise more than $30m for charity

Burton-Taylor romance puts sparkle in diamonds auction
Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor married Richard Burton two times
Burton-Taylor romance puts sparkle in diamonds auction
A woman looks at a poster of Elizabeth Taylors jewelry public exhibition in GUM on Moscows Red Square, on September 14, 2011, shortly after the exhibition opening. Christie‘s have revealed the main lots of the Oscar-winning actress jewels to be auctioned in New York this December. Select highlights from the 269-piece collection went on an eight-city tour including London, Los Angeles, Dubai, Geneva, Paris and Hong Kong, beginning today an exhibition in Moscow. (AFP/Getty Images)
Burton-Taylor romance puts sparkle in diamonds auction
Elizabeth Taylors $120,000 – 180,000 necklace and $25,000-35,000 earrings from the set of diamond and gold “Barquerolles” jewelry by Van Cleef & Arpels, a gift from Richard Burton, are displayed at a public exhibition in GUM on Moscows Red Square, on September 14, 2011, shortly after the exhibition opening. Christie‘s have revealed the main lots of Elizabeth Taylors jewels to be auctioned in New York this December. Select highlights from the 269-piece collection went on an eight-city tour including London, Los Angeles, Dubai, Geneva, Paris and Hong Kong, beginning today an exhibition in Moscow. (AFP/Getty Images)

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but for Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor they were a lifelong passion that could now strike gold for the AIDS sufferers she championed.

Rubies, sapphires, emeralds and pearls - many of them given to Taylor by her two-time husband Richard Burton during their stormy romance - are among the 269 jewels up for auction in December following the death in March of the legendary film actress.

Some of the most jaw-dropping gems are now on an international tour ahead of the sale that auctioneer Christie's expects to bring in more than $30m.

Another $20m could be raised from some of Taylor's iconic gowns and film memorabilia. A portion of the proceeds from exhibitions, events and publications related to the auction will go to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation that was started in 1991.

But what Christie's experts call "the Liz factor" - the lore surrounding her glamorous Hollywood lifestyle - could blow those pre-sale estimates sky high.

"This collection is unlike anything we have offered before. It is a window on Elizabeth Taylor's life," Christie's America chairman Marc Porter told reporters on Monday ahead of the four-day Los Angeles public exhibit.

Taylor's career spanned seven decades and included films such as "National Velvet," in which she starred as a teenager, as well as "Giant" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" which earned her an Academy Award for best actress.

In her personal life, Taylor's eight marriages, health problems and early advocacy for AIDS patients made her a larger than life figure and the epitome of Hollywood glamour.

The jewelry auction "was a decision Elizabeth Taylor herself made a few years ago. She wanted someone new to enjoy them," Porter said.

The famous 33.19 carat white diamond ring that Burton bought for Taylor in 1968, and which she wore almost every day, is just one of the highlights of the sale and the public exhibition. It is estimated to fetch $2.5mto $3.5m, based largely on the value of the stones alone.

Less famous but equally dazzling is a 16th century pearl that Taylor helped design as the centerpiece of a ruby and diamond necklace. The pearl was a 1969 gift from the charismatic Welsh actor and the necklace is valued at $2m to $3m.

Then there is the emerald and diamond necklace, pendant, ring and bracelet that Burton bought for Taylor starting in 1962 in Rome when their romance blossomed on the set of "Cleopatra".

But Burton wasn't the only lover to shower Taylor with jewels. An antique diamond tiara from film producer husband Mike Todd that Taylor wore to the Oscars in 1957 is valued at $60,000-$80,000, while a diamond wristwatch that the late pop star and close friend Michael Jackson gave Taylor as a gift is expected to fetch $300,000-$500,000.

"What the Liz factor will do to prices, we will see," said Christie's executive Brett Sherlock.

Christie's experts said Taylor wasn't just a collector of jewelry but had a keen sense of design, picking her pieces with care from the world's most legendary makers, including Bulgari, Cartier, Tiffany and Van Cleef & Arpels.

"She was born with a great eye for jewelry," said Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry at Christie's America. "This is the greatest jewelry collection that Christie's has ever presented."

Taylor, 79, died of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles in March. After Los Angeles, the public exhibit will visit Dubai, Geneva, Paris, Hong Kong and New York ahead of the four day auction in New York from December 13-16.