- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — Elizabeth Taylor dazzled the world with her luminous beauty, lavish lifestyle — and an unquenchable passion for diamonds and jewels that was fueled by the great loves of her life.

The late Hollywood star amassed one of the foremost jewelry collections in the world, including a 33.19-carat diamond ring and a 16th century pear-shaped pearl from one of her seven husbands, Richard Burton.

The Associated Press recently viewed about two dozen of her most iconic pieces at Christie’s auction house, which is selling her complete jewelry collection, valued at $30 million, in New York on Dec. 13-14.

“These are the top jewels that Elizabeth Taylor received from the great loves of her life, Mike Todd and Richard Burton,” said Christie’s jewelry expert Rahul Kadakia. “They’re from moments in life that were very dear to her,” jewels that were purchased in Bulgari in Rome, at Cartier in New York and at auction.

The stories behind them are as priceless as the gems themselves. In a 2002 memoir, “My Love Affair with Jewelry,” Taylor took readers on a personal journey of her collection, describing in her own words how she came to own each piece.

“I never, never thought of my jewelry as trophies,” she wrote. “I’m here to take care of them and to love them. . When I die and they go off to auction I hope whoever buys them gives them a really good home.”

It’s an extraordinary collection of rubies, diamonds, emeralds and sapphires in intricate and bold designs.

Among the standouts is the 16th-century La Peregrina, one of the largest and most symmetrically perfect pear-shaped pearls in the world, which Burton purchased for Taylor in 1969 as a Valentine’s Day gift.

The two had met in Italy on the set of the 1963 film “Cleopatra,” and married for the first time in 1964.

Once part of the Crown Jewels of Spain, the pearl later passed into the hands of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon III and the Duke of Abercorn.

When it came up at auction in New York, Burton snapped it up for $37,000, beating out the underbidder, a member of the Spanish Royal family.

Cartier later created a ruby and diamond necklace from which the pearl was suspended, a design that was inspired by the famous Velazquez portraits of Spain’s Queen Margarita and Queen Isabel wearing the pearl as a necklace.

It is estimated to fetch $2 million to $3 million.

Taylor, who was married eight times — twice to Burton — died in March at age 79. The couple appeared together in about a dozen films, including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in which Taylor played an alcoholic shrew in an emotionally sadomasochistic marriage.

Burton was enamored of historical pieces, and in 1972 purchased the famous 17th-century Taj Mahal diamond pendant for Taylor’s 40th birthday. The transaction took place at John F. Kennedy International Airport because the couple didn’t have time to run into the city before catching a plane, said Kadakia.

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