Elizabeth Taylor in White Diamonds (and Rubies)

In 1957, Elizabeth Taylor was swimming laps in a pool on the French Riviera when Mike Todd, her Oscar-winning producer husband, presented her with a tiny token of his affection: a Cartier ruby-and-diamond suite. “Since there was no mirror around, I had to look into the water,” the actress wrote in her 2002 book, My Love Affair With Jewelry. “The jewelry was so glorious, rippling red on blue like a painting.” The necklace, bracelet, and earrings feature oval and cushion-cut rubies within circular- and baguette-cut diamonds set in platinum. “The design is classic Cartier from the 1950s—simple abstract elegance,” says Maria Santangelo, a curator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, which featured all three pieces in its recent “Cartier and America” exhibit. “The pointed bib form of the necklace derives from Indian models. The settings almost disappear,” she adds. “The mounting purely showcases the stones.” Taylor’s marriage to Todd lasted only about 13 months; he was killed in a plane crash in 1958. To this day, the suite remains in her collection.

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