It’s no secret Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Tilly is a champion poker player. What you may not know is that she also is a world-class jewelry collector. Inspired by the glamorous pieces movie stars owned in the past, Tilly has invested in serious jewelry ever since she started receiving serious paychecks.
After making Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, a film in which she rebukes her gangster boyfriend’s jewelry gift with the hilarious line—“Black pearls? They probably come from defective oysters!”—Tilly bought a strand. The actress also purchased a stunning gold and sapphire ring from the gorgeous selection of Luna Felix jewels she flaunted in the Jim Carrey comedy Liar, Liar. Over the years, she has continued to pick up masterworks with impressive provenances, like a bejeweled evening bag that once belonged to the Duchess of Windsor and a jaw-dropping pair of JAR earrings from actress Ellen Barkin’s collection sold at auction in 2006. “A lot of beauty in jewels is the story behind them,” says Tilly.
The most fabled item in her jewelry box is a Bulgari brooch from Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary collection. Like any great gambler, Tilly enjoyed the thrill ride of acquiring it during Taylor’s 2011 estate sale at Christie’s in New York. Click through the slide show for the great story behind the Taylor treasure, and Tilly’s other incredible Bulgari jewels that will be among the 150 pieces on display in "The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita and Beyond" at the de Young Museum in San Francisco from September 21, 2013 through February 17, 2014.
1. On Jennifer's Wish List: Elizabeth Taylor’s Bulgari Diamond Brooch"I had a wish list of items for the Elizabeth Taylor auction in 2011. Most slipped away. The Taj Mahal diamond was my number one favorite. (The historic gem sold for $8,818,500.) The astronomical prices of everything was making me think I wasn’t going to get anything. Then the Bulgari brooch Eddie Fisher gave Elizabeth Taylor for her 30th birthday in 1962 came on the block. I love the story behind the brooch, which maybe isn’t romantic to some people but to me it was amazing. (Scroll down for more.)
Eddie Fisher gave it to Elizabeth at a dinner party in Rome where she was filming Cleopatra—and falling in love with her leading man Richard Burton. Two weeks after her birthday she left Fisher for Burton. Eddie hadn’t paid for the brooch yet so he sent the bill to Elizabeth—who paid it! Elizabeth was notorious for getting people to buy her jewelry so I thought she must have wanted that brooch awfully badly to pay for it.”
2. The Brooch and the Bidding War"I was bidding against a guy in the room, which I thought was a good sign because most of the really big ticket items were going to people bidding over the phone. He got really annoyed at me when the price kept going up. He actually pointed at me and asked, ‘Is she going to keep bidding?’ That’s when I put on my poker face on and said ‘Maybe, maybe not.’ He finally stopped bidding and I got it. I have been on a meager jewelry diet ever since! But I am thrilled I got such an iconic piece." (The final hammer price on the jewel was $1,142,500.)
3. On Standby for Elizabeth's Call"InStyle had a gala party to celebrate the publication of Elizabeth Taylor’s book, My Love Affair with Jewelry, in 2002. Many pieces from her personal collection were on display and there was a small group of jewels she commissioned to be auctioned during the evening with the proceeds benefiting the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. I had my eye on the Bulgari ruby heart necklace and was ecstatic when I won it. Immediately afterwards someone told me, Elizabeth had wanted to bid but she was distracted while it was being sold by Elton John who was talking to her about something.I hate when people distract you while you are trying to buy jewelry. Anyway, this person said she would probably call me and try to buy it. At first I was sad, because I really loved the jewel. Then I thought it is her charity and it would be fantastic to get a phone call from Elizabeth Taylor. I made up my mind I would sell it to her, but I then never heard from her."
4. The Piece She Still Hasn't Worn"I got the turquoise set around 1993. The pieces are from around 1969-1970 and they were very evocative of that period for me. They reminded me of the glamour of Talitha Getty or an Indian princess. When I was having the necklace sized and fitted the Bulgari archives told me it was a special commission jewel. They shared the details and original drawing. I think it is nice to have a major piece, but I have never worn it. You need the right neckline like a strapless dress. You can’t wear it with just anything. One day I will wear it. The other pieces in the set, I have worn a million times."