As we wrap up June, the month of the pearl, we are celebrating the most famous pearl in history-
the La Peregrina Pearl.
The La Peregrina Pearl has a long history and had quite the adventure. It's notoriety was established when Richard Burton gave the La Peregrina Pearl to Elizabeth Taylor on Valentine's Day in 1969. But it's origins go back to the late 1500's when it was sold to King Philip II of Spain. King Philip elevated it to the rank of a Spanish Crown Jewel and from then on the pearl is recorded in every royal inventory for more than 200 years and became one of the favorite ornaments of the Queens during that time period.
Elisabeth of France, Queen of Spain wearing the pearl (c. 1625)
Joseph Bonaparte acquired it in 1808 and then passed it to his nephew Prince Louis Napoleon, of France, who then sold it to Duke of Abercorn as a gift for his wife, the Duchess Louisa Hamilton in the late 1800's. The Duchess lost the pearl at a family wedding but later found it on the bride's train. Due to the rather large size (approximately 17.35 – 17.90 x 25.50 mm), rumor has it that the pearl was lost in the sofas at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.
The Hamilton family owned La Peregrina until 1969 when they decided to auction the pearl at Sotheby’s London, in which Richard Burton obtained the now famous pearl for $37,000.00 ($271,395.50 in today's current price). Elizabeth actually lost La Peregrina once, in her book Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry, Taylor writes:
At one point I reached down to touch La Peregrina and it wasn't there! I glanced over at Richard and thank God he wasn't looking at me, and I went into the bedroom and threw myself on the bed, buried my head into the pillow and screamed. Very slowly and very carefully, I retraced all my steps in the bedroom. I took my slippers off, took my socks off, and got down on my hands and knees, looking everywhere for the pearl. Nothing. I thought, "It's got to be in the living room in front of Richard. What am I going to do. He'll kill me! Because he loved the piece.
She looked down to see one of her puppies chewing on the pearl! After Taylor's close call with the pearl and the pup, she commissioned Cartier to set the pearl in a diamond and ruby necklace.
In 2011 La Peregrina was originally listed for auction for 3 million by Christie's New York. It sold as part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection to an anonymous buyer for over 11 million, setting the world record for a pearl.
Sources: The Jewelry Editor, Christie's, Pure Pearls, Wikipedia, Blogspot.com,
The Elizabeth Taylor Archives.