Independent Jewelers Also Love Liz

Amid all the big-name, big-money buyers at the Christie’s Dec. 13–15 fabled Elizabeth Taylor auction, several independent ­jewelers managed to take home a piece of what is already considered one of the most notable sales in jewelry history.

Jenny Caro, owner of Jewelry by Design in Woodbridge, Va., spent the first night getting outbid and growing frustrated—especially when an ivory and gold necklace she had her eye on, valued at $1,500 to $2,000, sold for $314,500. “That’s when it sunk in—even with a budget of $30,000 to spend, we might walk away empty-handed,” she says.

But on day two, Caro finally managed to snag a “paper jewelry suite”—essentially pictures of jewelry pieces given to Taylor by Malcolm Forbes.

Caro’s purchase was greeted with chuckles, considering she officially bid $5,500—close to $7,000 with taxes and fees—for little more than paper cutouts that were originally meant as a gag gift. But she thinks she will have the last laugh.

“This lot has an incredible story behind it,” she notes. “There is a heartfelt mention of it in [Taylor’s] book, which will go well with my store display ideas.” Using her iPad on the train home, Caro later won two pieces of real jewelry at the online auction: a pair of white gold and diamond earrings, and a coral, multi-gem, pearl, and gold necklace. (Both sold for more than 10 times their original estimates.) She says the sale has already proved a PR bonanza. “I was interviewed by the local news when I got home,” she says. “That’s free publicity—right before Christmas.”

Caro thinks the excitement about the auction stemmed from the sheer size of Taylor’s jewelry wardrobe. “Her entire collection could have filled my store,” she says. “And she had great taste.”

Courtesy of Christies Images Ltd.
Hank Siegel nabbed this diamond ring for $386,500. (The estimate? $20,000–$30,000.)

Another attendee, Hank Siegel, president of Princeton, N.J.–based Hamilton Jewelers, scooped up a number of pieces on behalf of clients, including a bracelet and ring given to Taylor by another legendary name, Michael Jackson.

Siegel says that as the prices of items skyrocketed, he and his clients had to adjust their expectations. “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,” he says.

Others didn’t make the trip to New York City but still joined the bidding frenzy. Denise Wurtzel, owner of Williams Diamond Center in Eau Claire, Wis., won two matching cuff bracelets online. “To me this is like someone in the computer business getting something from Bill Gates,” she says.