Christie’s has fired back at Elizabeth Taylor’s trust, with the auction house claiming it’s owed nearly $8 million from the aborted sale of one of the late actress’ diamond necklaces.
In December 2011, the Christie’s auction of the movie star’s legendary jewel collection fetched $183 million, with some proceeds going to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. But the trust sued Christie’s in February, charging the auction house has refused to pay proceeds from the sale of several items consigned by the trust, including a Bulgari ring owned by Taylor and autographed copies of Taylor’s book My Love Affair With Jewelry.
In a motion to dismiss filed April 16 in California federal court, the auction house called the trust’s complaint “a transparent attempt to keep money to which [the trust is] not entitled.”
The dispute is over the $8.8 million sale of Taylor’s Cartier Taj Mahal diamond necklace. The piece, inscribed with the name of the wife of a Mughal emperor, was given to Taylor by then-husband Richard Burton. The sale was canceled when the buyer balked, claiming the stone was not from the Mughal period, as listed in the item’s description.
The motion notes that the two parties’ consignment agreement says that Christie’s is “authorized to accept the return and rescind the sale of any property at any time if Christie’s in [its] reasonable judgment determines that the offering for sale of any Property has subjected or may subject Christie’s and/or Seller to any liability.”
The agreement further obligates the trust to pay back the proceeds of any rescinded sale to Christie’s, it continues. But so far the trust has refused to pay back the $7.8 million, even though “plaintiffs cannot dispute Christie’s right to rescind the sale,” the motion says.
The auction house’s subsequent actions, including not paying some proceeds, are covered by the agreement’s nonpayment clauses, it says.
The case may hinge on whether Christie’s faced any liability for the aborted sale. The trust argues that the auction’s upper case heading merely calls the piece “Indian” and did not mention any Moghul origins. It says that Christie’s warranty stipulates that “only upper case type indicates what is being warranted by Christie’s. Christie’s warranty does not apply to the supplemental material, which appears below the upper case type headings of each lot, and Christie’s is not responsible for errors or omissions in such material.”
The trust writes that Christie’s canceled the sale only to “appease an ongoing VIP customer…not because it reasonably believed that the diamond buyer claims would subject it, or the trust, to any liability.”
At press time, neither the trust nor Christie’s had returned requests for comment.