Elizabeth Taylor, Christie’s, and the Case of the Cursed Necklace

Elizabeth Taylor, Christie’s, and the Case of the Cursed Necklace
June 19, 2017 Puria Keshmiri

Vanities
Richard Lawson
May 12, 2017

Why doesn’t anyone want this $8 million piece of history

Psst. Wanna buy a necklace? It’s a beautiful item, gold and red—the colors of class—and encrusted with rubies and diamonds. It was most recently owned by the late actress/icon Elizabeth Taylor, and is said to have once been the property of the guy who had the Taj Mahal built. (The famed Indian mausoleum, not the failed Atlantic City casino. Donald Trump has never touched this necklace as far as I know.) It’s really quite a piece, and it can be yours for only $8 million! Though, honestly, you could probably get it for cheaper than that. Because the thing about this necklace? The people who own it don’t want it.

It’s a whole long story that Page Six details here, the gist of which is that hoity-toity auction house Christie’s, acting on behalf of Taylor’s estate, sold the necklace to a loyal customer for $8 million six years ago. But then that customer wanted to return the necklace because some doubt had been cast on whether the necklace really had belonged at one point to Shah Jahan, the guy who had the Taj Mahal built in Agra to honor a beloved wife. Christie’s didn’t want to alienate this valuable customer, so they returned the money and took back the necklace. Then they turned to Taylor’s estate and said, “Here’s your necklace back; can we have all that money we gave you please?,” and the estate said nope. They claimed Christie’s was not authorized to undo the sale, so the estate is keeping the money and leaving Christie’s holding its own . . . necklace.

And thus we arrive at a strange point, where a fabulous pendant that once graced Elizabeth Taylor’s neck—it was a romantic gift from Richard Burton, no less!—has become an unloved object that nobody wants. How can that be?? Isn’t Elizabeth Taylor’s estate nostalgic enough that they’d want it more than the money? Isn’t Christie’s proud to have it in their collection? Doesn’t the ghost of Shah Jahan want to reclaim it? It would seem not! Nobody wants this thing, to the extent that lawsuits have been filed between Christie’s and the Taylor estate, and Christie’s is, according to Page Six, “holding hostage” several other Taylor pieces, including a diamond and emerald ring that, I dunno, originally belonged to the first leprechaun or something. So there is a whole hullabaloo about this necklace. But not over who gets to have it. Over who gets to get rid of it.

Which, to me, indicates only one thing. This thing is cursed. Right? This is the kind of scrambling and shuffling you only see when one or more parties get hip to the fact that an object is imbued with some kind of dark magic. What particular curse might have been placed on Liz Taylor’s old bauble? And who put it there? Oh, hard to say. Could have been any number of jilted souls that Liz and Dick left in their frothy wake. Could have been someone long ago, one of Shah Jahan’s other wives, angry that all she got was a little fountain or whatever, while that apple-polisher Mumtaz got a whole Taj. It could be some disgruntled Christie’s employee who thought working at an auction house was going to be all exciting bidding wars and gavel bangs and thwarting sexy art thieves, but instead it’s just boring paper work and arguing with Elizabeth Taylor’s estate. It could be any number of people! But the point is, this thing is almost definitely cursed. Why else would no one want it?

Well, sure, it could be because its provenance has been questioned. And, sure, it’s honestly not the prettiest, most wearable thing these days, what with all its gaudy gold and old-timey-restaurant-red rubies. Sure, sure, it’s a piece of history, a curio that’s passed through notable hands over the ages. And that’s worth something. But $8 million? That’s a lot for a piece of jewelry that maybe a drunk Dick Burton bought at the Heathrow gift shop and convinced himself was an Indian relic somewhere over the Atlantic. I suppose those could be legitimate reasons for not wanting to be in possession of this thing, and thus out millions of dollars. But the most likely reason—if we follow the main precept of Occam’s razor—is that it’s a cursed item. That’s the simplest answer, thus likely the best one.

But don’t worry. You think an auction house like Christie’s hasn’t dealt with this kind of thing before? You don’t get to be one of the world’s premier auction houses without having a curse contingency plan. They’ve got plenty of necromancers and other spell-casters on staff—a lot of them from the respected necromancy program at Columbia—who can deal with this. And, of course, they’ve got their vault, deep, deep under Rockefeller Plaza, that houses—or, really, imprisons—various hexed or otherwise bedeviled objects they’ve accidentally acquired over the years (portraits whose eyes move, ancient urns that moan when you open the lids, the mummy of Bubbles the chimp, etc.). So we’re all safe from the Taylor/Taj necklace’s power. Still, it’s presenting quite a frustrating pickle for Christie’s. And if the house of Christie isn’t happy, can any of us be?

She wore them at the Paris premiere of Lawrence of Arabia in 1962; she wore them to greet Queen Elizabeth in Washington, in 1976; and they were part of her costume in the V.I.P.s. They were, if such a thing can be said of emerald-and-diamond earrings, ubiquitous. —Ruth Peltason
Left, from Reporters Associes/Gamma/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images; left, courtesy of Christie’s.

 

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