Part of the allure of pearls is their timeless appeal. It’s exhilarating to don an item of jewelry that was just as prized centuries ago as it is now. And if you get the chance to actually see one of the ancient pearls of a king or queen itself, in person at a museum, it’s all the more breath-taking.
Today we continue our journey through history, looking at the various famous pearls that have had the honor of being named and treasured over the centuries by royalty, and now, by museums. Last week we spoke of pearls belonging to royals as varied as Charles I and Khubilai Khan. This week, we’ll continue the trend, journeying to France, Spain, and England.
Charles II Pearl
King Charles II of England owned a gorgeous pearl weighing over 130 grains. It was found in 1661, and given to him by Don Pedro de Aponte, Conde Del Palmer, a native of the Canary Islands. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a fire in 1734. We’re sure that many mourned its short reign.
The story of this pearl is very familiar, as you’ll see if you read our blog post on Antony and Cleopatra’s famous dinner party. Maybe Thomas Gresham, a British merchant prince, knew that tale, because during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, he proposed a toast to his queen in which he crushed a pearl into his glass of wine and then drank it. The pearl in question? A very large natural pearl supposedly valued at around £15,000. According to the story, this was done to win a bet he made with the Spaniards as to who could provide the most lavish, expensive feast for the queen. Looks like someone was paying attention in history class!
La Peregrina (Spanish: The Pilgrim)
This pearl used to be known as the Phillip II pearl, and in its day, was the most famous pearl. It weighed 203.8 grains, but it was not only its large pearl size it was known for – its perfect pear shape and bright white color made it a sight to behold. It was found off the coast of Panama in the 16th century, and was immediately given to King Phillip II of Spain, who presented it to his new bride, Queen Mary of Spain. How did its name change over the years? The pearl was later owned by Queen Margaret, Joseph Bonaparte, and British Marquis of Abercorn. And finally, Richard Burton bought it in 1969 for $37,000 for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor – who owned it till her death in 2011.
La Pellegrina (Spanish: the Incomparable), or La Reine de Pearls
The story of this pearl involves a good deal of mystery and intrigue. According to the French, this pearl started life as a part of the French crown jewels. Weighing 27.5 carats, it was listed in the French crown jewel inventory in 1791 as being worth 200,000 francs. Its description in that inventory said it was “a virgin pearl, perfect, round, and of fine water.” But in 1792, most of the French crown jewels were stolen. It is said that the Zozima Brothers, the jewelers of the Russian Czar, acquired La Reine de Pearls and renamed it La Pellegrina in order to sell it. As La Pellegrina, this pearl became a part of the Spanish crown jewels, and then made its way to India, and finally to Russia in the 18th century, where it was known as the Zozima Pearl. In 1987, it resurfaced and was sold at a Christie’s auction for $463,800.
With a history this rich and varied, it’s no wonder that pearls are among the most treasured and precious gemstones in the world. The next time you put on your pearl necklace, think back to all the royalty who were adorned with them in the past. It may just make you feel like a queen, yourself.