The Elizabeth Taylor Auction: A Firsthand View

What was it like to be at Christie’s bidding on Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels at this week’s record-shattering auction? Hank Siegel, president of Hamilton Jewelers in Princeton, N.J., shares his experience with JCK: 

I have been to many auctions over the years, at the large houses as well as regional. This collection, by far the most important ever to come to auction on as a single event, was well curated and beautifully presented. The Christie’s team did a spectacular job in arranging the lots and varying the type and styles of the jewels. Of course, the collection of jewels as well as fashions, accessories, collectibles, and memorabilia, had been on display at the galleries for some time, and it was terrific to see all of the fashions arranged so beautifully—almost like a timeline of fashion from the ’60s–’80s. Very cool.  

Very cleverly, and to provide a frame of reference and put everyone in the mood, attendees were shown a brief presentation featuring famous scenes and highlights from Elizabeth Taylor films, such as Cleopatra and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It was great. However, the closing clip was a home movie taken in the 1960s, showing Ms. Taylor bidding via phone for jewels at auction for the first time—she keeps bidding more and more for the item she wants…and finally, in frustration, says, “I just don’t know what to do, everything seems to be going for so much more than the estimate.”

And then the auction began. When the first two gold charm bracelets sold for in excess of $200,000, we all knew that we were in for a “costly” evening.… It was fascinating for me, and those in the trade to whom I spoke that evening, to see what was being bid up to hundreds of times the high estimates, and what went for merely double or triple the high estimates. Clearly, the items which were worn at important junctures in Ms. Taylor’s career—emeralds worn at the Oscars, a snake watch worn while filming Cleopatra, etc.—brought the most astonishing prices.

I was attending to bid on several items for Hamilton, as well as for two Hamilton clients wishing to add to their collections. For them, my role was an advisor/consultant. I met personally with each of these clients in advance of the auction, reviewed the collection and set priorities for bidding. That was the most challenging part, of course—to try and determine a “maximum” for each of the items on the list. Knowing that the clients were extremely excited and anxious, I phoned each of them just as the auction began, and then when the lots they were looking to acquire came up. Naturally, priorities (and maximum authorized amounts) were adjusted on the fly!

In the end, I was able to acquire some historically significant pieces—two of which, when taken together, make the acquisition even more interesting. The two items that I can share with you are a bracelet and ring presented to Ms. Taylor by Michael Jackson. They will look great whether being worn together or separately, and the client is extremely excited.

As far as impact on the trade…there is no question that there will be jewelry design trends which will emerge from this event. As an example, Ms. Taylor obviously loved amethyst and coral in combination, as there were many pieces in the collection with this colorful design. I think the “ping pong rings” might also be something to watch—the idea of a stack of three solitaire diamond rings with smaller center diamonds. Animal and nature-themed jewels also did very well, and we saw monkeys, lions, iguanas, horses, butterflies, flowers, and more.

In all, it was a great evening for great jewels!

Sounds like it. And Mr. Siegel notes that he has just made arrangements with his client to display two of the items—lots 8 and 61—in Hamilton’s stores for the remainder of the month.

JCK News Director