MARIE YUVIENCO: Her Precious
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The peasants have been lining up outside Cartier’s this week to gawk at a diamond as big as the Ritz that costs well over a million dollars. It is destined to hang around the neck of Mrs. Richard Burton. As somebody said, it would have been nice to wear in the tumbril on the way to the guillotine.
-- New York Times, 01 November 1969
Mrs. Richard Burton, as if she needs explaining, is no other than the legendary
Elizabeth Taylor, whose death last year from congestive heart failure was the precursor to the most profitable jewelry auction in history.
In her prime, Taylor was romanced by wealthy and generous men, who paid homage to her beauty by gifting her with a sultan’s ransom of jewelry. Among them, and the subject of the New York Times article, was the 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton diamond, at the time, the most expensive gem ever sold; when it was put up for auction, Cartier, the fabled luxury goods firm, actually outbid Richard Burton, then Mr. Elizabeth Taylor, who decided that it would look especially good on his wife’s neck.
When, by special arrangement, Burton was able to buy the stone from Cartier, one of the conditions of the sale was that the diamond would be displayed in Cartier’s New York store’s window.
There’s no way of knowing, 43 years after the fact, if the Taylor-Burton diamond, which Taylor sold after her second divorce to Burton, performed magic for New York City’s tourism numbers.
The Presidential Commission on Good Government, however, is banking on drawing droves of gawkers who might be persuaded to shell out a few to see a home-grown jewelry collection, that of Imelda Marcos.
Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez is reportedly cool to the idea, but he has not completely frozen out the possibility of putting the Marcos gems on display, saying for the moment that the Department will study the proposal.
The Marcos collection is divided into three lots.
The first, referred to as the Malacañang collection, consists of 300 pieces that the Marcoses left behind in the Palace when they were exiled to the United States after the 1986 Revolution.
The second, known as the Honolulu collection, consists of 400 items that were seized by US Customs when the Marcoses reached Hawaii.
The third is dubbed the Roumeliotes collection after a Greek friend of the Marcoses who was caught attempting to spirit 60 items out of the Philippines weeks after the Marcoses went into exile.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the famed auction houses, estimate that the entire collection is worth P15 billion.
Several years back, in an attempt to put the joke on herself, Imelda Marcos publicized a self-starter business of costume jewelry. The concept traded on the former First Lady’s reputation for extravagance and was a subversive play on the real thing, that is, her almost-mythical collection of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls and precious metals.
Yet if you Google “Imelda Marcos” and “diamonds,” your search will yield entries referring to the “Idol’s Eye,” one of the most famous diamonds in history and for which the Marcoses were rumored to have paid several million dollars in 1983 (for a lot which included two other historic stones, including a diamond owned by the tragic Emperor Maximilian of Mexico). The jewels in the possession of the PCGG is said to include a diamond weighing 37 carats.
That’s serious bling, by any measure.
Is it politic to put these luxuries on display?
Cautiously, I will say yes.
I can count three attractions of such an exhibit. First, the pieces can be appreciated on their own as among the finest examples of the jeweler’s art. Gemstones in their raw state do not achieve their full potential for brilliance and beauty until they have known the touch of man, and metals by themselves are cold and unremarkable until they have been worked by artisans; science and art combine to produce objects of wearable beauty.
Second, a religious dimension can be attached to such an exhibit, as a testament to folly and an exercise in obeying the tenth Commandment.
Viewing such garish examples of excess no doubt will impress some and inspire greed and envy in the bosoms of their beholders, in total violation of the Biblical injunction, “Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s goods.” The Roman Catholic Church will have a lot to say about putting one’s energy into acquiring material wealth at the expense of one’s soul.
Third -- and I believe this to be the most important -- allowing the Filipino people to see the Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth might remind them that 26 years since we booted out the dictator, we have yet see any justice done on behalf of the millions who died or starved just so that some people could hang glittering baubles on their ears and necks.
The NY Times rightly condemned such a display as vulgar, and so it is that we should also deem the Marcos loot, not as proof of good taste but as evidence of evidences of greed and insecurity.