elizabeth taylor diamonds

Elizabeth Taylor in 1988. Photo: Terry O'Neill, Getty Images

Dame Elizabeth Taylor may have had seven husbands, but she was the first to admit her greatest love affair was with her storied jewels, one of the most valued and coveted collections of statement pieces in the world.

As well as the famed Krupp diamond and the 69-carat Taylor-Burton diamond -- a stone so awesome that it was almost a celebrity in its own right -- her vault included rare artifacts from houses including Boucheron, Bulgari, Cartier, Chopard, the British house of Garrard, Van Cleef & Arpels, Ruser, Tiffany, Schlumberger and more.

"You can't cry on a diamond's shoulder, and diamonds won't keep you warm at night, but they are sure fun when the sun shines," she once said of her collection.

Taylor, who died today at the age of 79, even managed to market her love of jewels as a brand, inspiring her best-selling "White Diamonds" fragrance and sexy ad campaigns in which she often appeared dripping in gems.

The actress, who chronicled her collection in the book "My Love Affair with Jewelry," published in 2002, recalled her first piece of jewelery was a diamond-and-stone broach given to her by her mother in 1945.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing the Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite (l.) and the the La Preregrina Pearl. Ron Galella, WireImage | Barry King, Liaison

Some of her most sentimental pieces were received as gifts during her love affair and subsequent marriage to showman Mike Todd (who died in a plane crash), who made a habit of bestowing Taylor with jewelry "just because."

"Every day was some sort of anniversary," she recalled. Todd gave her a suite of diamonds and rubies from Cartier as a prize for swimming laps in their pool and a 29-and-seven-eighths-carat engagement ring. "Mike insisted I say 29 and seven-eighths because 30 would have sounded vulgar," she wrote.

Of course, Taylor acquired some of the most valuable and sought after pieces of jewelery in the world during her tumultuous marriages (her fourth and fifth) to the late actor Richard Burton, whom she met on the set of "Cleopatra." The actress said that, in much the same way that Todd lavished her with jewels, many of her gifts from Burton were a total surprise. "We never discussed jewels," she said.

Elizabeth Taylor shows off the 33.19 carat diamond ring given to her by husband Richard Burton. Photo: Express Newspapers / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Together they acquired the Krupp diamond, the Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite, the La Preregrina Pearl and the massive stone that became known as the Taylor-Burton diamond, a 69-carat pear-shaped stone. For her 40th birthday, in 1972, Burton gave her a heart-shaped diamond known as the Taj Majhal.

Burton, a history buff, loved collecting pieces that were of significant historical value, which only enhanced the value of the couples' collection over time.

The actress deliberately flashed her jewels in a unique way. During the years she worked with hairstylist Alexandre de Paris, it was not unusual for him to fasten a broach in her hair or weave a strand of pearls into an updo.

Elizabeth Taylor wears the Taylor-Burton diamond on a necklace (l.) at the 1970 'Oscar' Ball at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and adorns her hair with pearls (r.).
Frank Edwards, Fotos International / Getty Images | Camera Press / Retna Ltd

In later years, Taylor was generous with her jewels, often lending them to museums for exhibitions. "I am only their guardians," she said. "Just like a painting, you can't own jewelery."

She wrote in her book, "As I look at some my jewels I realize what a very lucky girl I am. Sometimes I wonder what will become of everything because just like the Duchess of Windsor's collection, they will be up for auction one day. They will be scattered to the four corners of the world and I hope whoever buys each piece loves it as much as I do."

Speaking of the Duchess of Windsor, the late Wallis Simpson, read about the recent auction of items acquired during her scandalous marriage to Great Britain's abdicated King Edward.