Jewelry is so much more than just ornamentation. Bracelets, rings, and necklaces all carry with them a unique history and have the ability to tell incredible stories. All this, and they also fetch eye-watering prices at auction. While few of us can regularly wear 70-odd carat diamonds worth millions, that doesn’t mean we can’t ogle some of the most iconic jewels from history.
The Burton-Taylor Diamond
As a keen jewelry collector, plenty of pieces from Elizabeth Taylor’s collection could go on this list. Arguably the most famous is the ‘Burton-Taylor’ diamond – the 69-carat whopper Richard Burton bought for his wife in 1969. According to National Jeweler, Burton purchased the stone for $1.1 million from Cartier. Taylor most famously wore the stone as part of a diamond-encrusted necklace to the 1970 Academy Awards, where she presented the award for best picture. She wore a pale blue chiffon dress by Edith Head with a deep V to show off the necklace. She sold the diamond after her second marriage to Burton broke up.
The Tiffany Diamond
Wallis Simpson’s Cartier Panther Bracelet
There is still so much fascination around the Duchess of Windsor, the American socialite who the Duke of Windsor abdicated the throne to marry in 1936. It was a scandalous story at the time – and Wallis Simpson’s legacy is no doubt boosted by the sheer glamor of her jewelry collection. One of her most famous jewels was an onyx and diamond panther bracelet from Cartier, which when it was made in Paris in 1952 must have felt exceedingly modern. According to the BBC, when sold for £4.5m in 2010, the bracelet became the most expensive bracelet and the priciest Cartier item to be sold at auction. Now, the panther is the instantly recognizable symbol of Cartier.
Princess Diana's Engagement Ring
In 1981 Princess Diana revealed her engagement ring – one she picked out herself – and it apparently caused a bit of a stir within the monarchy. The ring is made up of a Ceylon sapphire surrounded by diamonds, all set in white gold. Made by the Garrard jewelers, it wasn’t custom-made – meaning anyone who had the money could buy it from a catalog. Rumor has it some within the royal family thought Diana should have chosen something unique instead. Now, the ring is worn by the Duchess of Cambridge.
The Black Orlov Diamond
A ginormous black diamond might already seem dramatic enough, but this stone goes the extra mile and was allegedly cursed. The Black Orlov is also known as The Eye of Brahma and is rumored to have been removed from a Hindu idol in India. Three people, thought to have been former owners, are said to have died in apparent suicides, leading to the stone being christened the ‘Evil Death Gem’ by the media in the mid-20th century.
The original 195-carat stone was later re-cut into three, so the Black Orlov Diamond is now 67.5 carats and the curse is apparently broken. In 2005, it went on display at an exhibition at the Natural History Museum, with the BBC reporting the curator Alan Hart as saying: “The intriguing legend of the Black Orlov highlights the powerful way that diamonds have captured the human imagination for thousands of years. This jewel’s beauty and apparent infamy make it a fitting addition to the world’s biggest diamond exhibition.”
The Dresden Green Diamond
The Dresden Green Diamond – often known more simply as the Dresden Green – has far happier connotations than the Black Orlov. It’s said to bring good luck, as it’s the largest green diamond in the world.
Thought to have been mined in India, it was notably owned by Polish royalty in the 1700s. It was shown off as a symbol of power and wealth, and since 1768 it has been part of a hat ornament. It’s surrounded by several bright white diamonds in an intricate pattern, and earlier this year it went on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
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