I’ve just not been able to write, but I’ve also been meaning to mention this pearl for ages, so I’ll use it to bid June adieu. (And in its current form, also to welcome in the month of rubies.)
In 2011 Christie’s auctioned off Elizabeth Taylor’s famous collection of jewelry. One piece was a natural saltwater pearl, diamond, ruby, and cultured pearl necklace designed by Cartier. So it belonged to a glamorous actress and is part of the story of a famous tempestuous romance. It’s an over the top gem encrusted necklace. Why care?
It’s as encrusted with history as it is with diamonds!
That natural pearl drop was called La Peregrina-the Pilgrim (or Wanderer) back in 1815, because of its travels.
Look at the provenance of the main pearl:
Philip II (1582-1598)
Philip III (1598-1621)
Philip IV (1621-1665)
Charles II (1665-1700)
Philip V (1700-1746)
Fernando VI (1746-1759)
Charles III (1759-1778)
Carlos IV (1778-1808)
Joseph Bonaparte, of France (1808-circa 1844)
Prince Louis Napoleon, of France (circa 1844-circa 1848)
Duke and Duchess of Abercorn (circa 1848-1914)
Elizabeth Taylor (1969-2011)
It’s a stunning history for a single gem. (Also that it survived all those tumultuous eras, pearls are one of the few organic gemstones and comparatively fragile.) And this leaves out one famous owner and a famous coveter of the pearl.
When it was found, La Peregrina was probably the largest gem pearl in the world. The stories about its discovery are vague and conflicting. The most common is that it was found in the Gulf of Panama and given to the Spanish administrator, who gave the pearl to the future Phillip II. But it may have been given to the royal family as early as the reign of King Ferdinand V (Phillip II’s grandfather).
On more solid historical ground, we know that Phillip II gave it to Queen Mary when they were to be married. You can see her wearing it as a pendant in portraits of her from 1554 to her death in 1558.*
Upon Queen Mary’s death the pearl was given back to Spain and became part of the Spanish crown jewels.
It’s suspected that Queen Mary knew how much her younger sister Elizabeth wanted the gem, so she gave it back out of spite, rather than have it become part of the English crown jewels where her sister would one day have it. She grudgingly allowed her sister to inherit the throne, but there was no way she was getting that pearl too.
La Peregrina had a (calmer) 250 years as a favorite gem of the Spanish Queens until Napoleon made his brother king of Spain. When he fled, he brought the pearl with him, later giving it to Napoleon III. Napoleon in turn sold it to a Scottish duke. In 1969 it came up for auction, when Richard Burton bought it for Elizabeth Taylor. She had it set in its current Cartier incarnation, a modern take on Queen Mary’s necklace.
*Richard Burton wanted to purchase one of those portraits for Elizabeth Taylor. When he did, they discovered that the British National Portrait Gallery didn’t have an original painting of Queen Mary, so after basing the necklace on it, they gave it to the gallery.