Elizabeth Taylor's La Peregrina pearl necklace makes World Record price

For collectors of fine jewellery there cannot have been many auctions as anticipated as that of Elizabeth Taylor's collection, which opened last night in New York with the crowd buzzing with excitement.

More is still to come from her vast hoard, of course, but last night set the tone with several records set and all 80 lots sold. Almost all of the lots surpassed their estimates and in several cases made them look ridiculous.

Ahead of the sale, many had expected the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond - a rectangular-cut diamond, weighing approximately 33.19 carats, flanked on either side by a tapered baguette-cut diamond, mounted in platinum as a ring which Taylor wore daily - to be the top lot.

Elizabeth Taylor Diamond
The presumed-flawless Elizabeth Taylor Diamond

One of the greatest gifts given by Richard Burton to Taylor, the diamond is D colour and VS1 clarity and studies suggest it may be internally flawless. It easily surpassed its $2.5m-3.5m listing to sell for $8.8m.

This was actually matched by an Indian diamond and jade pendant necklace with a ruby and gold chain made by Cartier, nicknamed the 'Taj Mahal'. The result was particularly astonishing as it had only been listed at $300,000-500,000.

The nickname is not a meaningless one. It refers to the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan who presented the diamond to Mumtaz-I-Mahal, his most beloved wife, trusted advisor and friend. When she died in childbirth he constructed an extraordinary mausoleum to hold her body, which is now known as the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal diamond jade necklace with a ruby and gold chain by Cartier
The 'Taj Mahal' diamond and jade necklace with a ruby and gold chain

Both of these were eclipsed however by the sale of the night: 'La Peregrina' - a storied 16th century pear-shaped pearl of 203 grains in size - equivalent to 50 carats.

La Peregrina was first discovered in the 1500s in the Gulf of Panama. King Philip II of Spain was one of the earliest recorded owners of the pear-shaped pearl, which later passed on to the Spanish queens Margaret and Elisabeth.

The two queens even wore the pearl in 17th century portraits painted by Velázquez.

La Peregrina pearl necklace Elizabeth Taylor Cartier rubies
The record-breaking La Peregrina pearl necklace

It was a different painting however which inspired the current mounting of the pearl. Elizabeth Taylor saw the way in which Mary, Queen of Scots, wore her jewellery in a portrait and commissioned Cartier to design an exquisite new mount of matched natural pearls and rubies to offset what she called "the most perfect pearl in the world."

La Peregrina was another of Taylor's twice-husband Richard Burton's great gifts to her. He famously purchased the pearl at auction in 1969 for $37,000, after successfully outbidding a member of the Spanish Royal family.

La Peregrina pearl from Elizabeth Taylor's collection in close-up
Elizabeth Taylor's La Peregrina pearl in close-up

Last night, it sold for $11,842,500 at Christie's New York to a phone bidder, following four and a half minutes of bidding (a compound annual growth rate of 14.72%, if we ignored the mounting).

That breaks the world auction record for a pearl jewel, set in 2007 at Christie's New York with the sale of The Baroda Pearls for $7,096,000.

So far the sale of Taylor's jewellery has brought a staggering $115,932,000 with 190 lots still to be sold, continuing today. Watch this space for up-to-date news on the sale.

Elizabeth Taylor always had a special magic about her, and collectors are buying her jewellery in part to get close to the star as well as for its phenomenal intrinsic beauty. Those eager to own a piece of her memorabilia but unable to spend six or seven figure sums will be glad to know that some of Taylor's hair is available at a tiny fraction of these prices from our stock.

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