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Bulgari shows off Liz Taylor's gems

Starting Oscar week, the Italian jeweler will exhibit eight of the actress' most treasured Bulgari pieces at its Beverly Hills store.

February 21, 2013|By Nita Lelyveld, Los Angeles Times
  • Amanda Perry, 35, of West Hollywood, seen with Bulgari's Timothy Morzenti, gets a close-up view of a gourmette sautoir in gold with six Byzantine gold coins and diamonds.
Amanda Perry, 35, of West Hollywood, seen with Bulgari's Timothy… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

It isn't easy sometimes to be an ordinary person in Los Angeles, so near to and yet so far from the city's glamorous events.

You hear about the grand Oscar parties, but you will never be invited. The award ceremony may be taking place minutes from where you live, but you watch it at home, on TV, in your sweat pants — and you might as well be in Dubuque.

Rodeo Drive too can make you feel like a scrap on the cutting room floor. As you stroll the wide and immaculate sidewalks of Beverly Hills' iconic shopping street, you pass by boutiques you'd feel self-conscious walking into. In the windows are baubles and trinkets you could never in three lifetimes afford.

Which is why it is rather nice to be invited to make a private appointment at the house of Bulgari, the fine Italian jeweler that opened its doors in 1884.

Elizabeth Taylor loved Bulgari jewels. Richard Burton, whose torrid affair with her began during the filming of "Cleopatra" in Rome, accompanied her often to the flagship shop on the Via Condotti. He liked to joke that the name Bulgari was all the Italian she knew.

So it is fitting that starting Oscar week, the jeweler is celebrating the Oscar-winning star with an exhibit of eight of her most treasured Bulgari pieces.

They are heavy on diamonds and emeralds — of rare size, gleam and value.

And Bulgari knows their value well.

After Taylor's death, it reacquired some of the gems at a Christie's auction. One piece, an emerald-and-diamond brooch that also can be worn as a pendant, sold for $6,578,500 — breaking records both for sales price of an emerald and for emerald price per carat ($280,000).

That brooch, whose centerpiece is an octagonal step-cut emerald weighing 23.44 carats, was Burton's engagement present to Taylor. He followed it upon their marriage (his second, her fifth) with a matching necklace whose 16 Colombian emeralds weigh in at 60.5 carats. Bulgari bought the necklace back too, for $6,130,500.

They are in the exhibit, along with Burton's engagement ring to Taylor and a delicate brooch — given to her by husband No. 4, Eddie Fisher — whose emerald and diamond flowers were set en tremblant so that they gently fluttered as Taylor moved.

The jewels are not for sale.

On Tuesday night, actress Julianne Moore wore the Burton necklace, with pendant attached, at a gala for Bulgari's top clients. At the dinner hour, guests were escorted along a lavender-colored carpet to a nearby rooftop that had been transformed into a Roman terrace.

Those honored guests, of course, got private viewings of Taylor's jewels.

But so did Amanda Perry, a healer from West Hollywood who arrived the next morning for one of the first appointments available to the public.

Someone had emailed news of the collection to the 35-year-old Taylor fan. She walked in off the street Tuesday, when the exhibit was open only to press — and Sabina Pelli, Bulgari's glamorous executive vice president, fresh from Rome, was taking sips of San Pellegrino brought to her on a silver tray between back-to-back interviews that started at 5 a.m.

The camera crews were long gone when Perry came back Wednesday. She had the exhibit, and handsome sales associate Timothy Morzenti of Milan, entirely to herself.

In a black suit, still wearing on his left hand the black glove he dons to handle fine jewels, Morzenti whisked Perry off via a private elevator to the exhibit on the second floor. The jewels stood in vitrines mounted high off the ground. Behind them were photos and a slide show of Taylor, bejeweled.

"Which piece would you like to see first?" Morzenti asked her as a security guard stood by. "I personally love the emerald ring."

Then he proceeded at leisure to explain Bulgari-signature sugar-loaf cuts and trombino ring settings, while tossing in occasional Taylor stories.

The best, however, was yet to come.

Back in the hushed showroom, where nary a price tag is visible, he sat Perry down before a jewelry case, which he carefully unlocked. Gently, he lifted out a pair of diamond earrings, set in platinum with fancy intense yellow drops.

"Would you like to try them on?" he asked as she beamed.

Their price, he told her, was $1.7 million.

Stars have their Cinderella moments too — when they arrive at the Governors Ball wearing loaner jewels that soon must be returned.

Perry, however, didn't mind when it came time to take the earrings off.

Asked how she'd spend the rest of her day, she said, "Walking on a cloud. And I'll stay with it for a while."

[View the story "Elizabeth Taylor's emeralds and diamonds on display" on Storify]

Elizabeth Taylor's emeralds and diamonds on display

When some of Elizabeth Taylor's finest jewelry went up for auction in 2011, the Italian jeweler Bulgari spent millions to buy back its own most famous pieces -- including several that Richard Burton had given her. Now, in time for Oscar week, eight of those pieces go on display.

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