The La Peregrina Pearl: A Glittering Jewel in Elizabeth Taylor's Crown
La Peregrina Pearl
There are few objects in the world that encapsulate glamour, royalty, and intrigue quite like the La Peregrina pearl. With a history that spans over 500 years, and ownership by royalty, actors, and collectors alike, this pearl is widely considered one of the most famous pearls in the world. Its final, and perhaps most well-known owner, was the Hollywood starlet Elizabeth Taylor, who cherished the pearl until her passing in 2011.
The Origin of La Peregrina
La Peregrina, which translates from Spanish as "The Pilgrim" or "The Wanderer," is one of the largest and most perfectly symmetrical pear-shaped pearls in the world. According to belief, it was discovered by an African slave off the coast of the isle of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama in 1513, and the slave was freed as a reward. The pearl was handed over to Don Pedro de Temez, the administrator of the Spanish colony, and soon after was gifted to Prince Phillip II of Spain. The pearl got its name due to its long and arduous journey from the New World to Spain.
At approximately 56 carats, La Peregrina is significantly larger than the average pearl, which tends to weigh less than 1 carat. Its size, 17.5mm by 25.5mm, combined with its stunning symmetry and flawless complexion, immediately made it a gem of remarkable value.
Throughout its history, La Peregrina passed through the hands of several of Europe's most influential rulers. After Phillip II, it was worn by queens of Spain, France, and England. Mary Tudor of England, also known as Mary I or 'Bloody Mary,' was one of the pearl's early owners. Portraits of the queen often featured her wearing La Peregrina, which became synonymous with her image.
Queen Mary I // Wikimedia Commons
Following her death in 1558, the pearl was gifted to Spain by Queen Elizabeth I of England, and for the next couple of centuries, it remained a treasured jewel in the Spanish royal family. The pearl's time in Spain ended abruptly in 1813 during Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion. Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, seized the pearl and in 1815, while fleeing the Duke of Wellington's army, took it to France. After Napolean's downfall, the pearl was sold to Lord James Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Abercorn, and remained in the family for over a century. In 1913, the pearl was drilled and cleaned in preparation for its setting and its size was reduced to 203.84 grains. Even with it's reduced size it remains one of the largest perfectly symmetrical pear-shaped pearls.
The Elizabeth Taylor Era
In 1969, the pearl entered a new era when it was purchased at auction by Richard Burton, the famous actor and then-husband of Elizabeth Taylor, for $37,000—a bargain price for such a historical jewel. Burton presented the pearl to Taylor as a Valentine's Day gift, marking the beginning of its association with the Hollywood actress.
Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina // GIA
Upon receiving La Peregrina, Taylor reportedly misplaced the pearl within her suite at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, only to find it in the mouth of her pet dog. Fortunately, the pearl was unscathed. This incident is one of the many anecdotes that have contributed to the legend of La Peregrina.
La Peregrina Pearl Necklace // Snow Kitty
Taylor had La Peregrina set into a magnificent necklace designed by Cartier, incorporating the pearl into a double-strand of other pearls, and diamond and ruby motifs. The necklace perfectly showcased La Peregrina and was frequently worn by Taylor at red carpet events and galas, adding a new level of prestige and visibility to the already famous gem.
La Peregrina Necklace // David Douglas
La Peregrina's Value
When Elizabeth Taylor passed away in 2011, her extensive collection of jewelry, including La Peregrina, was auctioned by Christie's. The pearl's final selling price was an astounding $11.8 million, almost 320 times the amount Richard Burton paid for it just over four decades earlier. This sale price reflected not just the pearl's size, symmetry, and historical significance, but also its association with Taylor, one of Hollywood's most celebrated actresses.
La Peregrina is a symbol of timeless elegance, holding centuries of rich history within its lustrous shell. Its intrinsic value is indisputable, given its impressive size and rarity. Still, it is the pearl's journey through the hands of royalty, its connection to historical events, and its final chapter with Elizabeth Taylor that truly make it priceless.
In Taylor's possession, La Peregrina found a home that matched its glamour and ostentation. She adored the pearl and incorporated it into her life in a way that no previous owner had. Through her, the pearl became not just a historical artifact, but also a symbol of Hollywood glitz and glamour. Today, even as La Peregrina sits in a private collection, its legacy continues, forever entwined with that of Elizabeth Taylor, adding an enduring allure to its captivating history.