From Elizabeth Taylor's Ping Pong diamonds to Napoleon's locket: famous jewels gifted in love through the ages

Some say it with flowers, some say it with chocolates, and others say it with extravagant jewels ...

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As Christie's Geneva gears up to put a heart-shaped diamond on the block in May, the auction house has revealed a series of famous jewellery lots from past sales. These pieces are rendered all the more precious because they are tokens of love and, as such, have been collated to coincide with Valentine's Day.

Belle Epoque emerald brooch

When Jagjit Singh, an Indian maharaja of Kapurthala and a known linguaphile, laid eyes on flamenco dancer Anita Delgado in Madrid, he was smitten. He arranged to meet her in Paris, where he taught her French so he could express his love for her, then Delgado went on to become Maharani Prem Kaur Sahiba after the pair married in 1908. After she also mastered Urdu, she expressed an admiration for a crescent-shaped Colombian emerald that adorned the king's beloved elephant. He immediately presented it to her, reworked as a Belle Epoque-style emerald and diamond brooch, which was auctioned in 2019 for $491,000.

Heart-shaped locket

Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, was known for her love of precious stones: by remounting several crown jewels to her liking, she helped to promote the reputation and craftsmanship of French haute joaillerie. And yet one of her most prized pieces was not one designed for grand court occasions, but rather a heart-shaped locket with a secret compartment. A gift from Napoleon III sometime in the 1850s, the locket was fitted with a glazed compartment on the back, which reputedly contained a lock of her husband's hair. It fetched $57,000 at auction in 2019.

Ping Pong diamonds

Across the Swiss Alps, in Gstaad, another jewellery connoisseur, Elizabeth Taylor, was enjoying a game of ping pong in her chalet with Richard Burton in 1970. Burton told his wife that if she could beat him by 10 points, he'd "buy her a perfect diamond". After losing by 30 points, the Welsh actor headed into town on a playful quest to find "the smallest diamond". He returned with three rings each with a one-eighth of a carat diamond, which came to be known as the Ping Pong diamonds. Taylor paired them with the famed, and conceivably larger, 69-carat Taylor-Burton diamond. Legend has it that when admirers remarked on Taylor's magnificent diamond, she'd instead flash the stacked Ping Pong diamond rings and say: "Isn't it perfect?" The trio sold for $134,500 in 2011.

Faberge tiara

In Germany, Frederick Francis IV, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, had a Faberge tiara designed for his bride-to-be, Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Cumberland, in 1904. The aquamarine headpiece was adorned with the quintessential motifs of love: cupid's arrows and forget-me-not flowers. As luck would have it, the piece was not ready by the time the big day came around, and the princess ended up wearing the traditional Hanoverian nuptial crown. She was, however, inseparable from the tiara once it arrived a month later. In 2019, it sold for $1.2 million.

Emerald and diamond brooch

Jewels as a token of love aren't limited to couples, either. On the wedding day of Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin to Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, the groom's father gifted the Grand Duchess Vladimir (who was since called Maria Pavlovna) an opulent brooch with diamonds and a pear-shaped 75.61-carat emerald. Perhaps as impressive as its weight is the stone's provenance: it belonged to Catherine the Great, Russia's longest-ruling female leader, and had passed through the hands of five tsars before Alexander II gave it to his daughter-in-law. It sold for $4.8m in 2019.

While these pieces may well come to the auction block again, for now, Christie's Superb Diamond Pendant, the brilliant-cut, heart-shaped, 53.53-carat diamond is yours to bid on during the Geneva sale on May 12, for an estimated price range of $2m to $3m.