PEARLS (Part 2)

LA PELEGRINA AND LA PEREGRINA

Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain, wearing La Peregrina Pearl in about 1606

Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain, wearing La Peregrina Pearl in about 1606

Elizabeth I, that lover of fine pearls who used their symbolic value to such great effect must certainly have envied some of the fine specimens her sister Mary wore while she was queen. As a wedding present her husband, Phillip II of Spain, gave her one of the most famous pearls in the world, known as La Peregrina (the Pilgrim). It is huge, and at the time of its discovery it was the largest symmetrical pearl found, weighing in at 55.95 carats. This gem of the highest quality almost came to a very undignified end. On Queen Mary’s death in 1558 the pearl reverted back to Phillip in Spain, where the stone remained part of the Spanish Crown Jewels for several hundred years. In 1808 Napoleon roundly defeated Spain during his attempt to dominate Europe, and installed his brother Joseph as King. Joseph raided the treasury, but after his brother Napoleon’s decisive defeat in 1815 he emigrated to America to settle permanently, taking with him several important gems, including La Peregrina. The pearl then passed on through descent to the Emperor Napoleon III, who sold it to the Marquess of Abercorn during his exile in England after his deposition. The gem was later bought by Richard Burton for Elizabeth Taylor. The pearl nearly arrived at its undignified en when Elizabeth mislaid the pearl not long after she was given it. The couple commissioned Cartier to design necklace from which to suspend the pearl and show it off to its maximum advantage- the result was one of the more daring and unconventional pieces they produced. The necklace became truly stellar in its fame when it was sold in 2011 as part of Elizabeth Taylor’s estate. The piece achieved £10.5 million dollars.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina pearl in the necklace designed for it by Cartier.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina pearl in the necklace designed for it by Cartier.

Another pearl of incredible Royal pedigree and often confused with La Peregrina was La Pelegrina (the Incomparable). Again, it was originally part of the Spanish Crown Jewels, and again it became part of the French Crown Jewels, on this occasion bequeathed to the Infanta Maria Teresa (or Marie Therese) when she married Louis XIV of France in 1660. Her father, Phillip IV was wearing La Peregrina in his hat when he handed over his daughter to the French King. Marie Therese died in 1683, when the fate of the pearl becomes uncertain. The most likely story is that La Pelegrina remained with the French Bourbons until the Revolution. The French Crown Jewels were stolen in 1792, the thieves managing to swipe several important stones including the Sancy diamond, the Tavernier Blue (now known as the Hope diamond) and most probably La Pelegrina. La Pelegrina somehow resurfaced again in Russia in 1826, in the hands of a gem dealer named Zozima. Princess Tatiana Youssoupov, the wife of the richest man in Russia, bought the stone from him, whence it passed by descent to Prince Felix Youssoupov, murderer of Rasputin. It was one of the few fabulous possessions Prince Felix managed to smuggle out of Russia with him in the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution. In 1953 he reluctantly sold it to the Swiss jeweller Jean Lombard, who had worked with Eugene Faberge (son of Carl, of the easter eggs fame) on various jewellery collections on his exile from Russia. La Pelegrina was then sold to a private collector, and it later reappeared for auction in Christie’s Geneva in 1989, where it sold for the then record sum of $463800. It was clear that in spite of the depreciation of pearls due to the impact of cultured pearls had not dented the fascination with natural pearls, and as seen from the sale of La Peregrina, the fascination with important stones of impeccable lineage and quality the price has only risen exponentially.