Sotheby’s will auction the Cowdray Pearls, a gray pearl necklace described by the Swiss Gemmological Institute as “exceptional” and meriting “special mention and appreciation,”at its Magnificent Jewels & Jadeite sale on October 7th in Hong Kong.
The Cowdray pearl necklace, once owned by connoisseur and collector Viscountess Cowdray Lady Pearson, (born 1860) could sell for up to $7 million in October. Lady Pearson, a renowned jewelry collector in England, died in 1932. The pearls were first auctioned by Sotheby’s London in 1937. “There is probably no finer collection of pearls in existence,” said the catalog note. The last time the pearls were at auction was at Christie’s London in 2012, where they sold for $3.35 million, a record price for natural gray pearls at auction. At the time of that sale, the strand held only 38 pearls. The original strand contained 42 pearls, but at some point while in possession of the Cowdray family, it was restrung to 38, and a pair of earrings with settings by Cartier London were created from two of the removed pearls. After the 2012 auction, the necklace was restrung with two of the original pearls and two from another antique jewel to return it to its original design of 42 pearls. The earrings stayed in the Cowdray family at the time of the initial 1937 auction of the necklace, but are included with this lot.
The necklace, strung and mounted by Cartier, features 42 extremely rare natural gray saltwater pearls that are “well matched” in luster, shape and size, Sotheby’s said, noting that it could be the most important single strand of gray natural pearls ever to appear at auction. The color of the pearls varies subtly in different shades of gray and brown, combined in part with rose, purple and green overtones.
The auction house will put the Cowdray pearls on display in Singapore, Taipei, New York, London, Geneva and the Middle East prior to the Hong Kong auction.
Sotheby’s believes a buyer will pay between $4.5 and $7 million for the strand, not an unreasonable estimate at a time when the price of natural pearls at auction continues to rise.
Arguably the most famous and celebrated single strand of natural pearls, according to Sotheby’s, is the Kelly and Calvin Klein pearl necklace. It was gifted by Queen Mary to King Edward, who later became the Duke of Windsor and gave it to the Duchess of Windsor to add to her personal collection. It was first sold in Geneva in 1987 and again at Sotheby’s New York in 2007 for $3.6 million. Read about it here and here.
A more recent example of gray pearls at auction is the Wrightsman pearl brooch featuring one fine single gray pearl from the collection of American philanthropist Mrs. Charles Wrightsman. It sold at Sotheby’s New York in December 2012 for $1.9 million, setting a world record for a single natural gray pearl at auction.
“We are extremely honored to offer the Cowdray Pearls in Sotheby’s upcoming Autumn sale,” said Quek Chin Yeow, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and chairman of international jewelry, Asia. “Natural saltwater grey pearls are rarely seen at auction and the present necklace, strung with 42 superb gray pearls and of aristocratic provenance, is arguably the greatest of its kind in existence. This is an extraordinary collecting opportunity for pearl and jewelry connoisseurs around the world.”
The fall auction season is upon us!