Bet On Crazy 10 / The Taylor Diamond

All diamonds have stories. Little ones maybe a sentence. Bigger ones deserved more time and not everyone tells the story the same. The stories like the stones have lives of their own. The bigger the stone the more the stories.

One afternoon Manny’s partner, Jerome, was showing a 7.04 Cushion Cut Round Diamond to a retired couple from West Palm Beach.

“Where’s the stone come from?” The sixtyish woman wore a stylish Dior outfit. She could have been from Park Avenue if her tan hadn’t screamed Boca Raton.

“Africa, darkest Africa, who knows, but I bought it off an estate from Duchess County.” Jerome was an expert at dressing up a stone with history and held out the ring. “Try it on.”

The woman betrayed her Brooklyn roots with an envious coo, “I don’t know, it’s so bigggg!”

Her husband was the color of an old leather couch from the decades of sun on Long Island and Florida and agreed with his wife, “It is big.”

“Big? This isn’t big.” Jerome, silver-haired and handsome in his early seventies, slipped the platinum ring onto the woman’s finger. “You remember Liz Taylor and Richard Burton? Well, back when we were all young, my good friend, Buzzy Yugler, had a 55-Carat D Flawless Diamond, which sparkled like snow under moonlight. Liz thought it was a little too big, yet once she put it on, she somehow changed her mind and said, “I think I can get used to it.”

Acting as if he had been in the room with Liz, Jerome guffawed with a practiced elegance and the couple laughed too, until Jerome removed the ring from her finger and turned to me, “Could you put this back in the front window.”

“What about the ring?” The woman was crushed by its potential disappearance.

“It’s too big.” Jerome was teasing her like a tarpon allured by the dazzle of bait.

“I didn’t think it was so big.” Her tongue flickered over her lips.

“Only one way to find out.” Jerome held out his palm and I gave him the ring. It was on her finger in a second. The old master winked to indicate the diamond wasn’t going back into the front window. As I went to plug the open space in the front window’s diamond ring trays, Manny, my boss, muttered about Jerome’s unabashed schmoozing, “Buzzy Yugler had nothing to do with that sale.”

“You’re just jealous.”

“Jealous of what? That Jerome made a big sale.” Manny had been brought up in Brownsville. Jerome hailed from Park Avenue. Manny started as a schlepper same as me, while Jerome inherited the business from his father. The two men couldn’t be more different.

“Yeah, don’t tell me you wouldn’t have wanted to make that sale.”

“I would have love to, but I didn’t and Buzzy Yugler had nothing to do with the Taylor sale either.” The Italian suits and imported ties more accented his rough background rather than hide them, not that he cared a rat’s ass what anyone thought as long as they bought something at the end of his spiels.

“What do you mean?” I stuck a plug in the empty slot. Jerome was writing up the ring for the couple. It was a done deal.

“I don’t have time to tell stories.” Manny looked at the wall clock at the back of the exchange. It was past noon and his customer hadn’t arrived with a promised check for $1000. He frowned like Jackie Mason not getting a laugh. “And neither do you.”

“You sure about that?” I surveyed the sidewalk for prospective customers, however most were intent on wide-eyed browsing. “Not much business out there today.”

“Now you hexed the entire day.” Manny knotted his tie and joined me in the window. He was ready for action. One glance at the street broke his heart and he said, “I know that Taylor stone. It came from a 240-carat rough. Harry Winston had his cutter study it for months before giving him the okay to cleave it. Whack. They got two stone. One for 78 carats. The other for 162.”

“The Taylor-Burton stone.”

“Of course. You can’t make something bigger from something smaller. Certainly not a diamond. Anyway they shape it to a pear and sold it to some rich dame. Only it’s too big for her and she’s scared someone is going to steal it. Probably someone in her family, so she brings it back to Winstons and they announce an auction. The bidding starts off at $200,000. Half the room bids for it. Soon they’re up to $500,000. Bidders are bailing like rich people abandoning on the Titanic. Up and up it goes. $650,000 and more until only two bidders are left. Buzzy Yugler and Cartier. Buzzy is bidding for Burton, who balks at $1,000,000 and Cartier wins the auction at $1,050,000, which was a lot of money back then.”

“And still is.” A million would be almost enough for the rest of my life. “Didn’t Liz Taylor leave the singer, Eddie Fisher, for Richard Burton during the filming of CLEOPATRA.”

“She left him in a heartbeat and served the schmuck right for dumping Debbie Reynolds, but she said it wasn’t so bad, since Liz was the most beautiful woman in the world.” Manny would know how beautiful. His first wife was 90% Liz Taylor. Blue eyes and all.

“So if Cartier bought the diamond, how’d it end up with Liz Taylor?”

“Because Burton lost his cold feet and called Cartier’s agent from a hotel in England. Obviously Taylor was dying for the stone and one thing about women is when they want something they get it no matter what.” Manny spoke from experience, although in these years he wasn’t any good at telling women ‘no’. “Burton tells the goy working for Cartier, “I don’t care how much, I’ll buy it.” And they agreed to sell it as long as they could also display it in their front window as the Taylor-Burton diamond. 69.42 D flawless.”

“End of story. ”

“Not end of story for a stone that big.” Manny shrugged like he handled stones that large every day. “Diamonds might be forever, but not Taylor and Burton.”

“The newspapers blamed Burton’s drinking, but about that time he admitted to having an affair with an actor. Some said Laurence Olivier. Who knows why they broke up, I’m not a marriage counsellor. I don’t care. Anyway after their second divorce in 1978 Abe Padrush offered Elizabeth Taylor two-million three for the stone.”

“Even more money.”

“But not enough to buy a 66-carat Pear Shape, because she laughed in Abe’s face and sold it for $5 million most of it going to some hospitals in Africa although failure didn’t prevent the gonif from crowing about having sold Liz the stone. Typical high roller.”

Jerome had been completing the sale, but decided to give Manny a zug or needle. “You just don’t understand them, because you were brought up on the Bowery.”

“Not the Bowery. Brownsville.”

“So Manny tell you all about the Taylor stone?” He handed the check to his daughter. She put on her coat for a trip to the bank.

“Everyone has a different story about that stone. I told the goy the short version.”

“Carat size isn’t important. Liz Taylor. Richard Burton. Cleopatra. Love. Diamonds. Your stone needed a little help. It was far from a D-flawless.”

“In a good light.” Jerome raised his eyes to the halogen lamps shining on the counter. They made a banana look like snow. “So I fudged the numbers and sizes. Better that then telling the couple Burton was gay like Manny might have done.”

“Or you would have if necessary.”

“Forever the sheygutz, now be a better goy and escort my lovely daughter to the bank.” Jerome peeled off a twenty. “And get me a coffee too. Someday if you stick around here long enough you might hear another version of that Taylor story and not just from me.”

Jerome eyed Manny. The two men smiled and sat at their desk. They might have come from different address, but they both thought the same thing when it came to diamonds.

Outside his daughter said, “The most beautiful diamond is the one you sell.”

And that was always the truth on 47th Street.

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