Women from History: Radiant Elizabeth Taylor

By Julia Ritson Elizabeth Taylor was a real dame.

Her penchant for shops in the arcades of swish hotels led to her developing a breathtaking collection of jewellery.

A perfect partner for the history loving Richard Burton. When Burton heard that the La Peregrina pearl was on the market, he just had to have it. He loved the provenance.

Here is Liz is wearing the very famous La Peregrina pearl, topped up with many other pearls.

The single pearl was found by a slave in 1500 and was passed on around the world, ending up as part of the Spanish royal jewels.

Other famous women have worn this very large pearl. In this wonderful 1634 painting by Diego Velázquez, we see Queen Margarita of Spain wearing the pearl set as a brooch.

After the purchase in 1969, Burton and Taylor approached Cartier to set the very special pearl in a new way. They were inspired by a portrait of Mary Queens of Scots wearing another pearl necklace and asked Cartier for a similar setting.

This image shows the collaboration between Cartier designer Al Durante and Taylor.

Taylor's life was full of drama.

Here she relates a story about losing the pearl. "At one point I reached down to touch La Peregrina and it wasn't there! I glanced over at Richard and thank God he wasn't looking at me, and I went into the bedroom and threw myself on the bed, buried my head into the pillow and screamed. Very slowly and very carefully, I retraced all my steps. I took my slippers off, took my socks off, and got down on my hands and knees, looking everywhere for the pearl. Nothing. I thought, 'It's got to be in the living room in front of Richard. What am I going to do. He'll kill me! Because he loved the piece!'" Taylor then looked at one of their puppies which seemed to have something in its mouth. "I casually opened the puppy's mouth and inside was the most perfect pearl in the world. It was, thank God, not scratched."

What a dame.

Julia Ritson is a Melbourne artist. Her paintings investigate colour, abstraction and a long-standing fascination with the grid. Julia has enriched and extended her studio practice with a series of limited edition art scarves. She also produces an online journal dedicated to art and scarves and architecture.