THE BLOG
15/12/2011 07:42 GMT | Updated 13/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Glitter Amidst the Gloom: Elizabeth Taylor, Jewellery and Image in the Recession

That the auctions of the late Elizabeth Taylor's possessions began with the world's economy teetering on the brink of another recession was the type of contrast which underlined the separation between a great Hollywood star and the rest of us mere mortals.

That the auctions of the late Elizabeth Taylor's possessions began with the world's economy teetering on the brink of another recession was the type of contrast which underlined the separation between a great Hollywood star and the rest of us mere mortals.

The records which tumbled during a sale of her jewellery at Christie's in New York were almost as numerous as her husbands.

The largest sum - $116m (£74.9m) - ever generated for a single collection. The most expensive pearl ever sold at auction. The highest price paid for an Indian jewel. The per-carat record for a ruby. The biggest successful bid for a tiara.

Overall, the auction raised almost six times as much as the pre-auction estimate. The outcome was perhaps fitting for someone who described herself as having three loves in her life - former husbands Michael Todd and Richard Burton, and jewellery - and for a woman once described by TIME magazine as "a jewel of great price ".

And, lest we forget, this was just the first of nine such sales - in New York, London and online - of the jewels, art, couture, film memorabilia and furniture amassed before Taylor died aged 79 in March.

How much of the money paid for all those items reflects their genuine value and how much can be put down to who owned them is open to interpretation. Certainly, there have been few stars as notorious and impossibly glamorous as Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, someone whose private life was more familiar around the globe than almost any other in the seemingly innocent, pre-internet days.

I wonder, though, whether the sums exchanged at Christie's provide perhaps an extreme example of behaviour typical during periods of financial instability.

Conspicuous wealth is seldom more so than during an economic downturn. More than at any other time, flaunting a wardrobe of expensive clothes or a garage stocked with sports cars while others are struggling to get by screams success.

Whilst some individuals are more muted in their style, others simply love showing off but whatever degree they choose to go to, people believe that presenting themselves well during a recession can be more than merely a cosmetic act.

They feel that a strong, confident appearance - whether dressing for a vital job interview or even a date - can help attract good fortune.

It is also true that there are individuals who look for safe investments as share prices yo-yo, property prices remain depressed and interest rates are negligible. For them, the opportunity to invest in luxurious alternative commodities is a welcome distraction. In recent years, there has been a move away from trends in art, jewellery and wine auctions towards selective purchases likely to appreciate in value.

Those lucky enough to be the new owners of Elizabeth Taylor's jewels, clothes by Dior and Yves Saint Laurent or art works by van Gogh and Warhol are probably justified in considering their money well spent, no matter how large the sums paid. Her aura will be sufficient to keep them accumulating worth long into the future.

Those of us who can only dream of lavishing eight figures on a necklace need not despair, though. Spending time cultivating one's image and dressing well is an investment in itself and something which, in this chilly economic climate, is a skill worth acquired.