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Famous Pearls from History

“All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.”

-Federico Fellini

Everyone loves the natural luster of a pearl, the elegance it adds to an outfit, the shimmer it adds to our shine. But natural pearls are hard to find. Natural pearls form in the body of certain mollusks and require no human intervention whatsoever. In order to make pearls more readily available and fulfill the rising demand, we (people) have to step in, which is when we get “cultured pearls.” All pearls commercially produced today are cultured pearls.

The fact that natural pearls are so rare makes it so much more amazing when we have extravagant stories to tell with famous pearls from world history. We’ve compiled a list of some of the rarest, most famous pearls, along with their pictures to show you just how beautiful they really are.

The Arco Valley Pearl

Reportedly, Kublai Khan, the emperor of China, gave this 575-carat natural blister pearl to Marco Polo who took it home to Europe. It measures 78mm x 41mm x 35 mm and has overtones of pink and brown.

Following Polo’s death, it was sold and resold to various ruling monarchies. Eventually, it made its way back to an aristocratic family in Austria, not far from its origins in Bavaria. Considered the second largest saltwater pearl, this pearl came from a clam and is not considered gem quality.

The Abernathy Pearl

In 1967, a professional pearl diver, Bill Abernathy, found a 14.26-carat natural freshwater pearl in the River Tay. It is considered the most perfect pearl ever found in Scotland’s rivers. Its size makes it rarer. Obviously, Abernathy named it after himself. To this day it is on display at Cairncross of Perth, a jewelry store in Perth Scotland. Unfortunately, the picture does not do the pearl justice.

The Hope Pearl

The largest and most famous natural saltwater

pearl, the Hope Pearl weighs 1,800 grains (450 carats), or approximately 4 ounces! It is a white, drop-shaped blister pearl, measuring approximately 2 x 4 inches. In color, it ranges from greenish-gold on one end to white on the other. Discovered in the early 19th century, Henry Philip Hope — who also owned the Hope Diamond — purchased the pearl for his collection which totaled 150 natural pearls. In the early 1900s his descendants sold the pearl in order to pay debts.

La Peregrina (The Pilgrim)

Discovered off the coast of Panama in the 16th century, La Peregrina was promptly delivered to King Phillip II of Spain who presented the gem to his new bride, Queen Mary of Spain. Originally it weighed 223.8 grains or 55.95 carats. Much later, it was drilled for setting, and the final weight is 203.8 grains. It was the most celebrated pearl of its time, prized for its size, perfect pear shape, and bright white coloration.

It’s most famous owner? Elizabeth Taylor! Actor Richard Burton purchased La Peregrina as a Valentine’s Day gift for her in 1969. He paid only $37,000 for it — a pittance by today’s standards. Following her death, the gorgeous pearl, diamond, and ruby necklace set a record at auction, selling for more than $11 million. Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina stands next to a portrait of Queen Mary of England wearing it.

And some people wonder why pearls are so popular! It’s easy to see how precious this gem really was, and it’s interesting to see how the evolution of our love of pearls hasn’t really changed.

Editor’s Note: Excerpts of this post were originally published by Stuller Inc. on June 5, 2017.

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