In this blog post, you can read the remarkable story of the secret of the Pelegrina pearl as a queen’s favorite. A pearl that always ends up in high places. And a pearl that is already more than 500 years so beautiful that its price goes sky-high.
The Pelegrina pearl
Normally the luster of a pearl lasts only about 100 years, maximum. A pearl in the higher price classes is about 1 cm / 0.39 inch. For a natural pearl this size, you pay a small fortune. But for the Pelegrina pearl, that after 500 years of its discovery has the same luster, the same high-quality you pay ‘a kingdom’. In the last auction, it costs about 11 million dollars.
Many queens, kings, and other VIPs wore this pearl in different settings. This pearl has a large history and in some decades it disappears altogether. Time to look into this story and discover what this pearl makes it ‘a queen’s favorite…
Queen Mary I of England and Queen Elisabeth of Austria wearing the Pelegrina pearl as a pendant
Finding the extraordinary Pelegrina pearl in South America
The Pelegrina pearl starts to be famous in an extra-ordinary way. A slave discovers the pearl in 1513 in the Gulf of Panama. And his owner was so grateful that he gives the slave its freedom. Great story but… in 1513 there are no slaves in Panama. Anyway, Panama is owed by the Spanish King at those days and the pearl is gifted to the Spanish King, Philip II.
The pearl weighs nearly 56 carats or 223.8 grains. It has the shape of a pigeon egg and it is as large as a pigeon egg. The estimated value is $28.000 (in those days), but jewelers think the value is more, much more. The luster of the pearl is sublime and it becomes a part of the Spanish Crown Jewels. And it gets the name ‘La Pelegrina’, which means the ‘pilgrim’ or ‘the wanderer’. There is another pearl ‘the Peregrina’ and its name looks like ‘our’ pearl. We don’t know what happens exactly with this one, so in this blog post, we stick to the story of the Pelegrina.
Queen Margaret of Spain and Isobel de Bourbon wearing the Pelegrina pearl
The Pelegrina pearl shipped to Spain as a wedding present
King Philip II needs a bridal gift for Queen Mary I of England (1554) and he thinks that ‘La Pelegrina’ is a great gift and of course he is right. Queen Mary wears the pearl as a pendant to a brooch. After her death in 1558, the pearl returns to Spain as a ‘gesture’ of friendship. The Pelegrina becomes an important item in the Spanish crown jewels for about 250 years.
In 1660 Philip IV of Spain gives the Pelegrina as a wedding gift to his daughter Maria Theresa. She marries the King of France, Louis XIV. But before he gives his precious pearl away he wears it hat together with a large table diamond. Now the pearl is in France and after the death of Maria Theresia, we don’t know what happened to the Pelegrina. Probably the pearl ended up as a part of the French Crown Jewels.
King Philip IV of Spain with the Pelegrina pearl on his hat
Revolutions are no good for the Pelegrina pearl
In 1792, during the French Revolution, a lot of French Crown Jewels (and probably also the Pelegrina) were stolen by rioters and sold to Russian nobles of the Yusupov family. That is a fact since there is a beautiful portrait of Zinaida Yusupov wearing the Pelegrina as a pendant on a necklace. During the Russian Revolution in 1918, Zinaida’s son Felix smuggles some precious jewelry, including the famous pearl to Paris/France.
His situation and the situation of his mother is bad. They don’t have money to survive in Paris. One by one he has to sell the precious jewels of his mother, just to pay the rent and buy food. In 1953 he finds no other option than to sell the Pelegrina to a jeweler in Geneva/Switzerland.
Zinaida Yusupov wears the Pelegrina pearl as a pendant
from France to Russia, back to England and the USA
One way or another the pearl ends up in England with the Hamilton Family, and in 1969 Richard Burton needs a Valentine’s gift for Elisabeth Taylor and he buys the Pelegrina for $37.000, just before the Spanish Royal Family can grab it. Elisabeth Taylor asks Cartier to design a necklace for the pearl. And Cartier comes up with a necklace full of diamonds, rubies, and more pearls.
Elisabeth Taylor loves the necklace and wears it often in her movies. One day she loses the pearl, luckily in her house. She looks everywhere but cannot find the precious jewel. Then she sees that her little dog is chewing on something that looks like a bone. But since he never gets bones she is alerted. Well, the dog has found the pearl and loves the taste of it. After her death, the Pelegrina is auctioned for nearly 12 million dollars!
Elisabeth Taylor wearing the Pelegrina pearl
You have to take care of your expensive pearls
In 1913 the pearl is cleaned and drilled. Before the cleaning, the weight of the pearl is 223.8 grains / 11.2 grams. After the cleaning, there are ‘only’ 203,84 grains left. Although the Pelegrina stays the largest pear-shaped pearl in the world, about 20 grains are gone. Part of the explanation can be the drilling, but that cannot be that much. There might be another cause…
In the time of Louis XIV, there are a lot of parties for the nobility. And taking a bath regularly is not a custom in those days. Everybody wears a wig, in the house and outside. To avoid the flees to come in the wigs and your body odor gets too strong people perfume and powdered their wigs and used perfume on their clothing, body… well, about everywhere. Combine these facts with using candles at the parties and you can imagine the grease that sticks on the gemstones and pearls. That grease might even weigh about 20 grains.
Tip for wearing pearls
Use perfume or powder or make-up before putting your pearls on. When you store your pearls clean them first with a soft cloth and keep them dust-free. In this way, your pearls will stay clean, beautiful, and full of luster.
Do you want more information about the types of pearls, how they grow etc?
Ask for this free PDF by letting me know where I can send it to