The Taylor-Burton diamond is considered to be one of the most impressive diamonds. This pear-shaped diamond started as a rough stone weighing a whopping 241 carats. Throughout its history, the diamond has switched owners and names, but it’s best known as the Taylor-Burton Diamond.
Let’s dive into the fascinating history of the Taylor-Burton Diamond.
Who Was Taylor Burton?
Many people who aren’t in the diamond industry have heard of the Taylor-Burton Diamond and believe it’s someone’s first and last name. However, this isn’t true; the diamond was named after the famous couple who purchased the ring: Richard Burton and his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.
Since Cartier bought the diamond first, the stone was called the Cartier Diamond. After Richard Burton bought it, the diamond was named the Cartier-Burton Diamond, but it gained fame as the Taylor-Burton Diamond since Elizabeth was the one wearing it.
The Mining of the Taylor-Burton Diamond
The Taylor-Burton diamond has a long history, but naturally, the history of the Taylor-Burton Diamond begins with its discovery. It was discovered in 1966 in the Premier Mine in South Africa. The Premier Mine is known for producing over 750 stones over 100 carats and more than 25% of the world’s supply of diamonds that weigh more than 400 carats. Other notable diamonds sourced from the Premier Mine are the Cullinan Diamond (the largest gem-quality diamond ever found), the Golden Jubilee, and Premier Rose.
When it was discovered, the rough stone weighed 240.80 carats (48.2 grams). Harry Winston, an American jeweler with an eye for exceptional diamonds, recognized the stone’s potential and bought it. After bringing it to the U.S., Harry Winston and Pastor Color Jr. (his cleaver) studied the diamond for months. They finally decided to cut the stone in two and transform the larger piece into the perfectly proportional pear-shaped diamond we know today.
Since cameras were allowed in the room during the cleaving, there was a lot of tension in the air. After cutting the stone, the cleaver reached for a piece, looked at it with his glasses, and exclaimed, “Beautiful!”
The Notable Specifications of the Diamond
The Taylor-Burton diamond is pear-shaped and weighs 69.42 carats. This is slightly less than the original 75-carat estimate jewelers thought the 160-carat piece of the original gemstone would produce. The diamond is colorless with very slight inclusions. Thanks to the precise cut, it has high brilliance and looks impressive from every angle.
The Famous Bidding War and the Aftermath
Contrary to popular belief, Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t the first owner of the diamond after Harry Winston. Winston sold it to Harriet Annenberg Ames in 1967. Harriet was the sister of the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom during the Nixon administration, Walter Annenberg.
Two years after purchasing the diamond, Harriet decided to sell it. According to her, she didn’t feel comfortable wearing the massive diamond in New York and constantly kept her gloves on. She kept the diamond in a bank vault for a while but soon decided it was time to sell it since she was not using it.
The stone was officially put up for auction on October 23rd, 1969, and the buyer would have the right to name the diamond as they please. Before the action, journalists speculated who would bid for the diamond, and the list included the “usual” international names from the diamond world. Elizabeth Taylor was one of the people interested in purchasing the diamond. In fact, the diamond was even flown to Switzerland, just so she could take a look at it in person, and then back for the auction.
On the day of the auction, the room was packed with TV cameras, journalists, diamond experts, and potential buyers. Since Richard Burton was in London at the time, he sent a representative to the auction: Al Yugler of the jewelers Frank Pollack and Sons. Plus, he had his lawyer bidding on the telephone. Burton said the maximum amount he would give was $1 million.
The auction started at $200,000 and quickly rushed to $500,000 with nine active bidders, including Harry Winston, Aristotle Onassis, the Sultan of Brunei Hassanai Bolkiah, etc. At $650,000, there were only two people left, and when the bidding reached $1 million, Yugler dropped out. The auction ended shortly after that when the hammer fell at $1,050,000, which was the record price for a gem at the time. Since everyone in the room stood up, the auctioneer wasn’t able to identify who won right away. Later, it was revealed that Robert Kenmore of the Kenmore Corporation (the parent company of Cartier) was the winner. The diamond was subsequently named “The Cartier Diamond.”
When Burton’s lawyer called him to inform him that he had been outbid, Burton said he wanted it regardless of the price. He contacted Cartier the next day and bought the diamond for $1.1 million. Kenmore agreed to sell the diamond under one condition: the stone had to be displayed in Cartier’s stores in Chicago and New York for a week. It’s estimated around 6,000 people came to see the diamond every day. After the exhibition, the diamond was flown to Monaco. Soon after receiving it, Elizabeth Taylor found the diamond was too heavy for a ring and had it placed in a necklace. The necklace was designed to cover Elizabeth’s scar from a tracheotomy.
The diamond was first called “The Cartier-Burton Diamond” but gained fame as “The Taylor-Burton Diamond.”
Wearing the Taylor-Burton Diamond
The first time Elizabeth Taylor wore the diamond necklace was in November 1969. She and Richard Burton attended a party in Monte Carlo hosted by Princess Grace of Monaco.
She also wore the diamond when she presented the Best Picture Award at the Oscars in 1970.
The diamond was covered under a $1 million insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London. According to the policy, Elizabeth was allowed to wear the diamond only 30 days a year. When wearing it in public, she had to be accompanied by armed guards. The stone had to be kept in a vault at all times. Since she could rarely wear the necklace in public, Elizabeth had a replica made, which cost her $2,800 at the time.
The Diamond Today
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton divorced twice. After the second divorce, Elizabeth decided to sell the diamond. In 1978, she sold it to Henry Lambert, a jeweler from New York, for a whopping $5 million, which is around $20 million in 2022. Part of the proceeds funded the construction of a hospital in Botswana.
In 1979, Lambert sold the diamond to Robert Mouawad. It’s speculated Mouawad sold the diamond to a private collector, but this was never confirmed.
Although the diamond’s whereabouts are unknown, I’m confident it will resurface again on the auction market at some point. Famous diamonds such as this always reappear.