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Buyer beware: Taylor gems may take years to show profit

A photograph of Elizabeth Taylor is seen behind jewels on display as part of the upcoming auction at Christie's Auction house in New York
A photograph of Elizabeth Taylor is seen behind jewels on display as part of the upcoming auction at Christie's Auction house in New York

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If ever there was a sale that begged a "buyer beware" disclaimer, it may be last week's auction of Elizabeth Taylor jewelry, gowns and art that fetched more than 400 times experts' estimate for at least one item.

But for Taylor shoppers who collectively paid $157 million to acquire items once owned by the Hollywood legend and who, perhaps now, are suffering a severe case of buyer's remorse, experts say relax. In some cases, the investment may take years to pay off, but eventually should show a profit.

"Elizabeth Taylor's image, her outsize life, her husbands, the people she interacted with, are all part of major Hollywood folklore," said New York art lawyer Judith Bresler, author of "Art Law: A Guide for Collectors, Investors, Dealers and Artists".

"I definitely think she will endure and that this will be a very good investment. And on top of that, you can wear them. You can't do that with stocks," Bresler said.

Auctioneers Christie's ended the week-long auction last Saturday. The least expensive item -- one of the few that sold within its estimate -- was an Emilio Pucci two-piece outfit that went for $563. The most expensive was an $11.8 million pearl, ruby and diamond necklace that carried a pre-sale estimate of $2 million to $3 million.

Taylor's gems comprised $137 million of the total sales figure, and Christie's priced them on the value of the jewels alone. They hadn't fully accounted for "The Liz Factor," the actress's adoration by fans, her storied Hollywood career and globe-trotting life among the rich and powerful.

Yet to many celebrity memorabilia experts, the high prices were little surprise in a red hot market. They say Taylor, who died in March at 79, will rank with icons like Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon and Jacqueline Kennedy in years to come.

Even astronomical prices -- a 33.19-carat diamond ring from husband Richard Burton went for $8.8 million -- will likely hold up and increase again. It just may take years to happen.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

Celebrity auctioneer Darren Julien said the pop culture market is extremely strong right now, especially with collectors from China and Japan who are buying for investment.

In June, Monroe's iconic "subway dress" from "The Seven Year Itch" sold for $4.6 million, while Audrey Hepburn's black and white Ascot dress in "My Fair Lady" fetched $4.4 million.

Julien said two pairs of shoes belonging to Monroe that sold for $3,000 in 1999, fetched more than $35,000 when his company Julien's Auctions sold them eight years later.

"I think Elizabeth Taylor will be the same. But you have to be patient. You can't sell them for profit in a year or two. It's going to be at least 5-10 years," Julien said.

Some of Taylor's items also had direct links with other collectible figures, including a signed Andy Warhol print of the actress and a diamond bracelet from pop star Michael Jackson that are seen as insuring their long-term value.

Few of the Taylor Collection buyers released their names, but the 33-carat diamond ring was purchased by a South Korean businessman who was buying on behalf of South Korean hotel conglomerate Eland World, which plans to exhibit the ring.

The New Pork Post quoted sources as saying that jewelers Bulgari bought back some $20 million of its own pieces.

Christie's declined to confirm or deny the report but Julien said such a purchase would not be unusual.

"We see that with many companies ... They put these items on display or do something with them marketing wise," he said.

Among buyers, there also will be those who just want to own, and wear, a piece of history. Reality TV star Kim Kardashian said she paid $64,900 for three jade bracelets, telling InStyle.com, "I believe they carry her spirit".

Bresler said she bought four necklaces at a Jackie Kennedy auction in 1996, which exceeded estimates by 750 percent.

"It is a powerful feeling when you wear one of them," said Bresler. "You feel you are assuming the aura of the iconic figure who owned them. How can you put a price on that?"

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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