With the media still buzzing over Kim Kardashian’s extravagant “push present” from Kanye West — a rare black and tiger-stripe diamond ring worth $770,000, though Ken Baker of E! News
insists it’s not an engagement ring — lavish expressions of love seem to be in vogue again post-recession. But how does Kim’s custom-designed bling stack up against other grand gestures meant to win a lover’s heart throughout history? Here, we list gifts from the heart that were so extravagant — or original — that we simply had to salute the people who came up with them. Let them inspire you to new heights of sweetness with your amour...
1. Richard Burton’s rock for Elizabeth Taylor
Sure, their relationship was a rollercoaster — they married and divorced each other twice — but wouldn’t you be somewhat forgiving of a guy who liked to shower you with expensive jewelry like, say, a 69.42-carat diamond? Burton bid on this Harry Winston wonder at an auction in 1969, but lost out to business tycoon Robert Kenmore, who coughed up just over a million bucks for the beauty. Burton didn’t take the auctioneer’s hammer for an answer, though, and after some heated haggling on the phone, Kenmore sold the gem to Burton for an undisclosed sum. The Taylor-Burton diamond, as it’s called, ended up being a gift that kept on giving: After the couple parted ways, Liz sold the gem in 1979 for a whopping $5 million.
2. The Taj Mahal
India’s most popular tourist attraction is actually a tomb that was created for emperor Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. Heartbroken, the Shah commanded 20,000 workmen to spend 22 years building this marble-and-jewel-studded effigy. As if that weren’t enough blood, sweat and tears spent, rumor has it that upon its completion, the Shah ordered that the right hand of the chief mason get chopped off so the building could remain truly one of a kind. Let’s just say that when an emperor’s in pain, his subjects feel it — personally.
3. Victoria (a.k.a. Posh Spice)’s cologne for David Beckham
What do you get for a toned, tan, highly swooned-over metrosexual millionaire who has everything? If you are Posh Spice, you get your husband — soccer superstar David Beckham — the world’s most exclusive cologne. The one-of-a-kind, $50,000 bottle of Clive Christian No. 1 fragrance took six months to produce, and came encased in a crystal bottle shaped like — what else? — a soccer shoe.
4. Joe DiMaggio’s flowers for Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe may have dated some pretty powerful guys, but no man showed her more TLC than her husband of nine months, baseball player Joe DiMaggio. After Marilyn’s death in 1962, Joe placed a 20-year standing order with a local flower shop to have long-stemmed roses placed on her grave three times a week. Talk about touching.
5. O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi
This author crafted what many consider to be the most generous — albeit cheapest — romantic gesture ever. In this short story, a poor-in-pocket but rich-in-love couple secretly makes huge sacrifices in order to buy each other Christmas gifts: He sells his grandfather’s gold watch to buy his wife a set of tortoiseshell combs for her beautiful hair; she cuts off that beautiful hair and sells it to a wig-maker to buy her hubby a platinum chain for his watch. When they realize what’s happened, they’re wise enough to just be thankful that they have each other.
6. Eric Clapton’s love song, “Layla”
Talk about annoying neighbors: when guitarist Eric Clapton moved into best friend George Harrison’s neighborhood, he fell in love with Harrison’s wife, fashion model Pattie Boyd. Clapton pleaded for her to leave the Beatle, but Pattie tuned out his requests. Despondent, Clapton began recording a song fueled by the words of the ancient Persian love poem, The Story of Layla and Majnun
. The resulting tune, “Layla” — which included the lyrics, “Please don’t say, we’ll never find a way, and tell me all my love’s in vain” — was a hit in more ways than one. Pattie soon left her husband and got hitched to Clapton. Even though they divorced nine years later, the popularity of “their song” will probably last forever.
7. Justin Bieber’s private screening of Titanic for Selena Gomez
After watching their pal Demi Lovato perform in concert at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles one Friday in September 2011, Bieber led Gomez through an underground tunnel into the nearby Staples Center — which had been emptied out completely, minus one table set for a candlelit dinner for two on the court floor. There, they enjoyed a catered meal followed by a surprise showing of the film, Titanic
. Perhaps the most frustrating part of this sweet story is that it reportedly didn’t cost the young crooner a dime: after selling out the 20,000-seat arena three nights in a row, Bieber was given the run of the place for a single night free of charge. Afterwards, he tweeted: “Romance isn’t dead. Treat your lady right, fellas.”
8. Wagner’s symphony to his wife
Some lovers bring their ladies breakfast in bed; others, like Richard Wagner, bring them symphonies. To celebrate his wife Cosima’s 33rd birthday, the famed composer had written Siegfried Idyll
for her — and then hired a 15-piece orchestra to play the tune on their staircase as he conducted them, to boot. Recalled Cosima in her diary: “When I woke up, I heard a sound. What music!” Wagner kept this intimate ditty private until 1877, when financial strains forced him to publish it. Their loss, our gain.
9. Carole Lombard’s car for Clark Gable
Hollywood hunk Clark Gable loved fancy cars, and screen siren Carole Lombard could afford to buy him the best. Ain’t it quaint, then, that on their first official date in 1936, she bought him a beat-up Model T Ford for just $15? Quainter still, she had it painted white with red hearts all over it, then had the gift delivered with a note saying: “You’re driving me crazy.” Thoroughly swept off his feet, Gable got to return the favor to his future wife that evening when he picked her up in his newest set of wheels to go dancing at the legendary Trocadero Ballroom.
10. The garbage disposal
Architect and inventor John Hammes wanted to bestow a nice birthday gift on his wife — who, we imagine, had a sink full of dirty dishes and a disinclination to scrape the leftovers into the trash. Thus, the world’s first garbage disposal was born in 1927. Called the In-Sink-Erator, it soon swept households across the country. While it might not sound as romantic as a dozen roses, what could say “I love you” better than an invention that cuts down on the amount of housework that needs to be done?
Dan Bova is deputy editor at
Stuff magazine. The best gift his wife has ever given him is their son, Henry.