If you read our last blog, you learned all about some of the more unusual types of natural pearls. But, those beauties don’t even begin to cover the natural pearl market, which has been re-emerging in recent years. Many collectors like to have natural strands because of their rarity, and the “untouched by man” beauty natural pearls possess, while more still are attracted to natural pearls because of their history. Pearls last forever, and many collectors like the connection to the colorful pasts and experiences that previous wearers of the pearls have had. It truly is the romance and history that is drawing natural pearls back into the market. These jewels can fetch extraordinary prices, and in 1999, a strand of pearls worn by Marie Antoinette and later owned by Barbara Hutton sold for $1.6 million in a Christie’s auction.[quote float=”left”]In 1999, a strand of pearls worn by Marie Antoinette and later owned by Barbara Hutton, sold for $1.6 million in a Christie’s auction.[/quote]
Composed of 44 graduated pearls, this necklace, amongst Marie Antoinette’s other jewels, were some of the only surviving relics from her reign as the last Queen of France. The history of this necklace began in the hands of Anne of Austria in the 1600s. Passed from generation to generation, the necklace was inherited by Marie Antoinette and remained in her possession until her incarceration in 1792, when she gave many of her jewels to Lady Elizabeth, the wife of the British ambassador Lord George Leveson-Gower in hopes that she would hold them in safe keeping until she could make her escape. That day never came. It is unclear the path that this necklace traveled between that date and when it was purchased for Barbara Hutton as a wedding gift from Cartier’s of New York in 1933.
The provenance of these beautiful pieces is, to be sure, a large consideration in their ultimate cost. The natural pearl market broke another record when again in 2007, not one but two natural pearl necklaces sold for over $4 million each. [quote float=”right”]Again in 2007, not one but two natural pearl necklaces sold for over $4 million each. [/quote]The Duchess of Windsor necklace sold for $4.82 million by Sotheby’s. Composed of 28 natural pearls, a diamond clasp, and a large baroque enhancer, this necklace was originally owned by Queen Mary, wife of King George V. King George then gave it to his wife, the Duchess, and it was eventually given to her son as a gift, and later sold in 1987 when Calvin Klein bought the necklace for Kelly Klein, who was his wife at the time.
The pearl set known as the Baroda Pearls sold for $7.1 million in a Christie’s auction. Frequently documented as “the most important pearl necklace in history,” the Baroda necklace and matched earrings, brooch, and ring contains pearls that have passed through many generations of Indian maharajas. The necklace, in its original state, contained seven strands of perfectly matched pearls of legendary quality. It was the Indian culture that first deemed the large, round, blemish free pearl – like those that still command the highest market prices today – “the ideal pearl.” The necklace in its current state is a double strand, featuring the largest and most high quality pearls from the 4th-7th strands of the original necklace.
Probably the most well known pearl in American history is the La Peregrina, which means “The Pilgrim” or “The Wanderer” in Spanish. It was probably most well known for the time is spent with actress Elizabeth Taylor. It was gifted to her by her husband, Richard Burton.[quote float=”left”]In 2011, the famed La Peregrina sold for an astounding $11.8 million.[/quote] When she received the pearl, it came with a booklet documenting the pearl’s history, from the time of its discovery by a slave in the 1500s until the time she bought it. The magnificent gem had spent some time as part of the Spanish royal gems, and was eventually given to Mary Tudor of England by Prince Phillip of Spain as an engagement present. It was during Elizabeth Taylor’s ownership of the pearl that it was set into the beautiful choker it is still seen in today. The choker part of the piece also contains natural pearls, separated by large, decorative ruby and diamond pieces. The design was inspired by a painting of Mary Queen of Scots. This queen of pearls made history when in 2011, the famed La Peregrina sold for an astounding $11.8 million.
These necklaces weren’t the only natural pearl pieces to fetch prices upwards of a million dollars. In fact, in 2012, Christie’s auctioned off three pearl necklaces, ranging in cost from $1.7-$4.7 million dollars, and one for $1.4 million in 2013. It looks like, despite their rarity and staggering cost, these amazing natural pieces are still present in the market and will be for some time.