La Peregrina – the pearl with history of nearly 500 years

Elizabeth Taylor wearing 'La Peregrina'

The “La Peregrina” pearl is one of the most famous pearls in the world with a recorded history of nearly 500 years. It is a large pear-shaped white nacreous pearl whose original weight was 223.8 grains (55.95 carats). In 1913 after the pearl was drilled, cleaned, and polished, it had a weight of 203.84 grains. The drilling was necessitated in order to secure it firmly to its setting, as the pearl was nearly lost on three different occasions after it had fallen off from its setting.

The pearl was found by an African slave on the coast of the isle of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama in the mid-16th century. Some stories claim that the pearl was found in 1513, but at that time there were no African slaves on the islands. The pearl was given to Don Pedro de Temez, the administrator of the Spanish colony in Panama. The slave who found it was rewarded with freedom.

The pearl entered the Spanish Crown Jewels during the period of rule of King Ferdinand V (1479-1516) or his successor King Charles V (1516-1556). Phillip II (1556-1598) gave the pearl as a gift to Queen Mary I of England (Mary Tudor or Bloody Mary) in anticipation of their marriage in 1554.

Several portraits were painted of Queen Mary wearing the pearl. After her death in 1558, the pearl was returned to the Crown of Spain, where it remained as part of the crown jewelry for the next 250 years. It became one of the favorite ornaments for the Spanish queen consorts of that time. Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain, the wife of Philip III of Spain, wore the pearl for the celebration of the peace treaty between Spain and England in 1605.

In 1808 the elder brother of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte, became the king of Spain. His rule continued for five years, and when he was forced to leave the kingdom, after the defeat of the French forces at the Battle of Vitoria, he took some of the crown jewels with him, including La Peregrina. At that time, the pearl got its name “La Peregrina – the Wanderer.”

Queen Mary Tudor and 'La Peregrina' pearl

Richard Burton purchased the pearl at the Sotheby’s auction for $37,000. He gave it to his wife Elizabeth Taylor as a Valentine’s Day gift during their first marriage. On one occasion, the pearl went missing in the Burtons’ suite at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas. 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.

After few minutes of mental anguish, Taylor looked at their puppies. One of them was apparently chewing on a bone, but nobody gave bones to the puppies. Taylor continues:

I just casually opened the puppy’s mouth and inside his mouth was the most perfect pearl in the world. It was—thank God—not scratched.” / Wikipedia/

Taylor commissioned Cartier to re-design the necklace, setting La Peregrina with pearls, diamonds, and rubies. In 2005 Taylor loaned it to Smithsonian Institution for their “The Allure of Pearls” exhibition.

Elizabeth Taylor died in March 2011, and today her dazzling jewellery collection – including ‘La Peregrina’ is up for sale. I am really curious who will be the lucky owner of this extraordinary , historical jewel.

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