The Unlikely Watch Collector: Elizabeth Taylor
Unlikely Watch Collector

The Unlikely Watch Collector: Elizabeth Taylor

Screen legend, style goddess, and serial divorcée Liz Taylor knew a thing or two about timepieces as well.

By Rhonda Riche

Elizabeth Taylor was a movie star’s movie star. Over a career that spanned almost 60 years, she was a constant presence on the big screen, on TV, and in the tabloids. However, Liz was so much more than a celebrity.

A canny businesswoman with a still-popular collection of fragrances, she was also a tireless advocate for AIDs research. Plus, she was one of the world’s most important jewelry collectors.

Even though Taylor was notorious for her tardiness – in her will, she famously requested that her funeral start 15 minutes late – she also amassed a superb collection of important jewelry watches.

Here’s a look at some of the most stunning examples.

Cartier Diamond and Onyx Wristwatch

Taylor was born in London in 1932. Her American parents were art dealers, and she inherited her curatorial instincts from them.

As an important collector of fine jewelry, of course, Taylor was going to have a Cartier in her watch collection. This 1925 example not only celebrates her love for Cartier (in 1973, she had the maison set her million-dollar, pear-shaped Taylor-Burton diamond into a necklace) but for Art Deco design.

As you can see, the watch is tiny, measuring just 5 ¾ inches. However, its tonneau-shaped silver case with a rose-cut, diamond-set bezel joined by onyx and rose-cut diamond-set links to the black silk strap make it a real stunner.

Bulgari Serpenti

When World War II broke out, Taylor’s family decamped to Los Angeles. And in 1942, she made her silver screen debut in There’s One Born Every Minute. Two years later, with 1944’s National Velvet, she was a household name.

Taylor’s canny business sense helped her transition from child star to screen legend. Her signature move was to have jewelry gifted to her as part of her movie contracts; another was to promote jewelers by wearing pieces from her collection in movies and publicity photos.

Perhaps the most notable example of this is when Taylor wore a Bulgari Serpenti watch in a publicity still taken on the 1962 Rome set of the film Cleopatra (1963).

The result? The Serpenti design went from a cool-looking watch in a local boutique (Bulgari was a Rome-only shop at the time) to one of the most instantly recognizable watch designs ever. The image became part of the barrage of press surrounding the film’s production. And quickly, the timepiece went viral after the press began to speculate that Taylor was having an affair with her married co-star, Richard Burton.

We still don’t know who purchased the watch: Burton? A producer? Taylor’s husband at the time, the American singer Eddie Fisher? Taylor made a million dollars to film Cleopatra – the highest salary ever paid to an actress at the time, and snake motifs played a big role in her Egyptian-inspired movie wardrobe – so maybe she bought it for herself.

Patek Philippe Diamond and Gold Ladies’ Nautilus

Taylor was unquestionably prescient in her watch selections (yes, they were gifts, but it’s almost a dead certainty that the star had a say in their selection). But, like most collectors, she also let emotions become part of the story. In this case, her love of Switzerland led her to Patek Philippe; and this sporty, diamond-set Nautilus from 1983.

Taylor spent part of her childhood in Switzerland. And she maintained residences there for much of her life. The celebrity was also a fan of many of the major Swiss watch manufactures.

Piaget Cuff

The 1960s and 1970s represented peak Elizabeth Taylor. Think big hair, flowing caftans, and catlike, heavily mascaraed eyes.

Many of the best Piaget watches of this period were equally over-the-top (but in a good way). Think yellow or white gold with vibrant-colored dials of jade, lapis lazuli, malachite, tiger's-eye, opal, onyx, and turquoise.

Taylor had several Piaget watches in her collection, but these cuffs best sum up the jet-setting mood of the day, providing arm candy that served both as jewelry and timekeeper.

Vacheron Constantin Lord Kalla Bracelet Watch

As we mentioned earlier, Taylor was also a purveyor of fine fragrances. And her (still) most beloved perfume is called White Diamonds. Launched in 1991, the floral scent of White Diamonds triggered a craze for celebrity perfumes, but like Liz, it has also stood the test of time and become a classic.

Perhaps even more so than Marilyn Monroe, diamonds were Taylor’s best friends. Her most famous possession was the Krupp Diamond – a rare Type IIa (practically flawless), 33.19-carat stone – now known as the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond. Taylor was so connected to the gem that when she guest-starred on an episode of The Simpsons, she was animated polishing it and admiring her reflection in its facets.

In real life, Taylor was not so self-absorbed. She auctioned off most of her collection to raise money for the AIDS charity amfAR. The rock was auctioned off by Christie’s along with this diamond-studded Lord Kalla bracelet watch by Vacheron Constantin.

Part of the brand’s Metiers d’Art collection, Taylor’s version was made in 1989 and given to her by Michael Jackson. We can’t imagine a more apt gift for a diamond girl like Liz.

Bulgari Diamond and Pink Gold Serpenti

Taylor was also famous for having been married eight times. But that doesn’t mean she was a failure at relationships. One of her most enduring love affairs was with Bulgari.

Taylor used to visit Bulgari’s flagship Via Condotti boutique to hide out from the paparazzi (and to try their exquisite pieces). Burton, who she would go on to marry and divorce twice, once said: “I introduced Liz to beer, she introduced me to Bulgari.”

Given to thank Taylor for her unwavering devotion and inscribed “To Dame Elizabeth, with gratitude, Paolo Bulgari, 2010,” this Serpenti watch – with its black opaline dial, 18K pink gold bezel set with circular-cut diamonds, and pink gem-set crown – represents a much more enduring romance. It also illustrates how the design of the Serpenti changed over the years.

Franck Muller Rose Gold and Diamond Wristwatch

If there’s any contemporary celebrity who could compare with Elizabeth Taylor, it’s Jennifer Lopez. When J-Lo recently romantically reunited with Ben Affleck, the paparazzi caught him wearing a Franck Muller that the Hustlers star had given him in 2002.

Of course, Taylor did conscious recoupling first with Burton. And she was ahead of the game with Muller too. This tonneau-shaped timepiece was also a part of Christie’s historic 2011 amfAR auction. It is pure Franck Muller, with its black Arabic numerals and blued-steel hands inside a circular-cut diamond bezel framed by circular-cut diamond shoulders and presented on an 18K rose gold link bracelet.

(Front image: Actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932 - 2011) wearing a white robe during the filming of 'The Sandpiper', 1965. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

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