Pearls, “the Queen of gems”, have been admired for centuries. They have been around for quite some time – before we even started tracking history. In fact, pearls are considered to be the world’s oldest gemstone.
The Origin of Pearls
The discovery of pearls can’t be tied to anyone in particular, but the gems have been and still are important for many cultures, as they are a sign of luxury.
For example, they were a status symbol in Ancient Greece and Rome and the go-to gift in China. Indian royalty and Western queens alike adored pearl accessories as well.
Which Piece Was the Most Expensive?
In 2018, the most expensive pearl was sold at a Sotheby’s auction. This was a pearl and diamond necklace previously owned by the French queen Marie Antoinette (shown above). The final price was $36 million, making history as the most expensive piece of pearl jewelry.
Prior to the sale in Sotheby’s Geneva, there was an intense bidding war for the pieces in this collection of Italy’s royal Bourbon-Parma house. Some of the fine jewelry from that collection hasn’t seen the light of day for years.
The pendant was previously owned by the late Elizabeth Taylor and sold for $11.8 million at Christie’s auction house in 2011. In only 7 years, the price almost tripled.
The Price of Marie Antoinette’s Pearl Pendant Necklace Explained
Of course, there is great historical value in the piece. But what other points make this pearl pendant necklace so expensive?
First and foremost, it is a natural pearl versus a cultured one. However, the very existence of pearls is somewhat of an abnormality. Unlike other gemstones, the pearl grows in a living organism. The shiny object only forms in case the shell becomes irritated by a parasite: it’s a way of protecting itself! To recreate this process in a lab, the shell is purposefully implanted with an irritant. Of course, the value of the pearl is partially determined based on the way it was created. However, even cultured pearls take several months to a year to cultivate.
Some other important aspects include size, as well as the shine, shape, color, and surface quality. Jewelry designs often require symmetry, and finding two or more pearls that look similar can be challenging. The shade needs to match as well, adding more details to be perfected. In the case of this pearl, the shape of Marie Antoinette's pearl is a near perfect natural pear shape, which makes it far more rare and valuable than a round one.
Whether it’s the most expensive necklace or just a plain set of earrings, realizing just how different and rare pearls are allows us to understand their true value.
Images courtesy of Sotheby's