in Themed Jewelry on October 17, 2014
This started out as an easy blog post about a very famous pearl. I thought it would be quite straight forward. I was wrong. Looking back through the jewelry archives of medieval Europe is like walking through a labyrinth especially when the jewel in question is a pear shaped pearl. At the time, pear shaped pearls dripped from every queen’s body.
It would appear that there were at least two exceptionally large pearls that are often confused. The Mary Tudor Pearl, which is larger and somewhat less perfectly shaped than its more famous cousin, the La Peregrina pearl. To confuse matters further during this time frame, Queen Elizabeth I was often painted sporting at least one huge pearl that is not connected to either of these two pearls. It is know that during this time many, many large and beautiful pearls were discovered off the coast of Panama.
But that’s another story!
Let’s start with the Mary Tudor Pearl. In 1521, King Charles I of Spain married Isabel de Avis, Infanta of Portugal. At some point during the years of 1526-1539, Isabel acquires what is now known as the Mary Tudor Pearl. This pearl measures 258.12 grains or 64.5 carats, 69.8 carats with its diamond cap. The pearl was either purchased outright or received as a gift. Such an acquisition would have counted among the Queen’s private jewelry collection and would not have been registered as part of the Spanish Crown Jewels.
Empress Isabel de Aviz of Portugal by Titian, 1548.
The King and Queen have six children. Isabel de Aviz, Queen consort to King Charles I and mother of Philip II, dies after giving birth to her sixth child, John of Austria. Queen Isabel bequeathed the Mary Tudor Pearl to her daughter, Joanna (Juana) of Austria, who took it with her when she married Prince John of Portugal in 1537. There do not appear to be any portraits of Queen Isabel or Joanna of Austria wearing the pearl. The Titian portrait of the Queen was painted posthumously.
A dowry register for Philip II’s sister Joanna of Austria records the 64.5-carat pearl bequeathed to her by her mother, Isabel de Aviz. In 1554, Prince Philip of Spain prepares to sail for England to wed Queen Mary I (also called Mary Tudor or Bloody Mary). His sister Joanna of Austria returns from Portugal to serve as Regent of Spain during his absence. She brings with her the pearl their mother bequeathed her in 1539. For some unknown reason, it is believed Juana (Joanna) gives the pearl to her brother who in turns presents it to Mary I of England or Mary Tudor.
Mary and the pearl are displayed in numerous paintings by a variety of artists during the time frame of 1554 to 1558. By the way, Philip stayed in Spain and Mary stayed in England during most of their marriage.
Mary often wore the pearl as a pendant to a brooch. She is shown wearing it in the famous portrait of her by Antonis Mor done in 1554.
Queen Mary Tudor or “Bloody Mary” in 1554. Portrait by Antonis Mor.
The original portrait is exhibited in the Prado Museum in Madrid and there is a copy in the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston.
The queen indicated in her last wishes (documented in 1557) that all the jewels from her husband, including the “Grande jewel,” which was the pearl and diamond brooch, were to be returned to him as a memoriam. After her death in 1558, these wishes were upheld. The pearl was returned to the Crown of Spain where it adorned many a Spanish royal neck for the next 250 years.
Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain, wife of Phillip III, wearing the pearl, circa 1606. Portrait by Juan Pantoia de la Cruz.
The Mary Tudor Pearl is last mentioned in the auction records of Juana’s estate in 1574 held after her death the previous year. Noted as item No.1 in the chapter ‘Pearls, Rubies and Diamond’, the pearl was unsold in the auction and was later purchased by silversmith Diego Ruiz in 1581 for 3,300 reales. Between that date and 2004, its whereabouts remain a mystery. The historic jewel was consigned by an undisclosed private family for auction at Christie’s London. It was bought at that auction by its current owner, Symbolic & Chase for £155,000. Now, it must be said that it is believed to be the pearl but there is no absolute proof that this is indeed the Mary Tudor Pearl. The pearl was accompanied by a certificate from the Swiss Gemmological Institute stating that the pear weighs 64.5 carats (258.12 grains) and measures 16.50 -17.80 x 31.95 mm and is of natural saltwater origin.
Now let’s talk about La Peregrina which is one of the most famous pearls in the world. As legend would have it, its history spans almost 500 years from the African slave that found it in the Gulf of Panama to European kings and queens to the ultimate Hollywood Queen, Elizabeth Taylor.
La Peregrina is a Spanish word that means “the Pilgrim” or “the Wanderer”. However, it is now believed that the name was given to mean “the Incomparable”.
The pear shaped pearl originally weighed 223.8 grains or 55.95 carats or 11.2 grams. In 1913 it was drilled and cleaned to secure it’s setting. After the drilling and cleaning, the pearl’s weight decreased to 20.384 grains. La Peregrina remains one of the largest perfectly symmetrical pear shaped pearls in the world.
It is believed that the pearl was found sometime in the late 1500’s. Supposedly the pearl was found by an African slave off the coast of the isle of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama. 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. In 1579, (21 years after Mary’s death) respected historian Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616) first mentions La Peregrina in his writings in 1609 where he details the pearl’s journey from Panama to Seville in 1579 by way of a Spanish courtier named Diego de Temez, who intended to sell the pearl to Philip II.
The English translation of his recording is as follows:
‘I will tell you of a pearl I saw in Seville, in the year 1579 which was a pearl brought from Panama by the courtier Diego de Témez [Teves] intended for the king Philip II. This pearl was of the shape, size and manner of a good muscadine [pear]. The upper part was elongated and shaped precisely like the top of a pear. The bottom had a small indentation, or hollow, as a pear. The body was large and well-rounded like a large pigeon’s egg. It came from the Indies valued at 12,000 pesos which is 14,400 ducats. The Milanese, Giacomo de Trezzo, distinguished goldsmith and lapidary, of his Catholic Majesty [Philip II], said the pearl was worth 14,000, 30,000, 50,000, even 100,000 ducats because it was priceless and incomparable in this world. So it came to be named “la Peregrina.” In Seville people went to see it because it was a wondrous thing’.
King Philip II is known to have made mention of La Peregrina in his will. Upon his death in 1598, La Peregrina was made into a brooch that closely resembled the brooch he had made for Mary I. La Peregrina remained in the Spanish Crown Jewels until Joseph Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain in 1808. Until 1808, the pearl is displayed in many, many famous portraits of Spanish royalty.
In 1808, the elder brother of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte, was installed as King of Spain. He was hated but managed to rule for five years and when forced to leave Spain, he took some of the crown jewels with him, including La Peregrina. At was at this time that the pearl’s name seems to have changed to the “the Wanderer”. In his will, Joseph Bonaparte left the pearl to his nephew, Charles Louis Bonaparte. Charles considered himself to be the legitimate claimant to the French throne and spent the majority of his lifetime trying to transform Bonapartism into a political ideology. He led an adventurous lifestyle, bought a castle, attempted coups and eventually arrived in Paris, where he began preparations to run for French presidency and succeeded in 1848. In 1852 after another coup, he announced himself the emperor of France, Napoleon III.
During his adventurous life, he was exiled in England for a time and it was there the future Emperor sold the pearl to James Hamilton, Marquess and later Duke of Abercorn. Abercorn bought the pearl for his wife, Louisa. The pearl was very heavy and fell out of its necklace’s setting on at least two occasions. The first time, the pearl got lost in a sofa in Windsor Castle. The second time, during a ball at Buckingham Palace. On both occasions, the pearl was recovered. The Hamilton family owned the pearl until 1969 when they sold it at auction at Sotheby’s in London. Richard Burton purchased the pearl at the auction for $37,000 and gave it to Elizabeth Taylor as a Valentine’s Day gift.
On one occasion, the pearl went missing in the Burtons’ suite at Caesar’s Palace. 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 a 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. Elizabeth Taylor writes, “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. I did finally tell Richard. But I had to wait at least a week”.
Taylor commissioned Cartier to re-design the necklace, setting La Peregrina with pearls, diamonds and rubies.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Cartier creation of pearls, rubies and diamonds, featuring La Peregrina.
La Peregrina, the pearl only, photo courtesy of Christie’s.
In December 2011, the pearl sold for a record price of more than $11 million as part of Elizabeth Taylor’s collection, which was being auctioned at Christie’s in New York. The rumor is it went to an anonymous Asian buyer.
Quite the story no?