One of the Most Celebrated Pearls
If you like a good saga look no further then the one that began in 1513 when an African slave reportedly discovered a magnificent pearl ...
If you like a good saga look no further then the one that began in 1513 when an African slave reportedly discovered a magnificent pearl while diving off the coast the isle of Santa Margarita, one of the Las Perlas Islands in the Gulf of Panama, and in turn was granted his freedom by Don Pedro de Temez, the administer of the Spanish Colony in Panama.
It has been known by many titles for well over 500 years, such as the “Wanderer”, “Pilgrim” and the “Incomparable”, but it is most widely recognized by a very different name. See if you can guess its identity.
Imagine a natural pearl the size of a pigeon’s egg (55.95 carats to be exact) that not only is one of the most celebrated pearls in the world, but also has one of the most intriguing histories of any world-class jewel.
It began its illustrious past by being gifted by Prince Phillip II, Crown Prince of Spain, to Queen Mary I of England in 1554, also known as Mary Tudor or “Bloody Mary” who was the daughter of King Henry the VII and wore the pearl as a pendant to a brooch.
After the death of “Bloody Mary” in 1558 the treasure piece was worn by the succeeding wives of Phillip II, Queen Isabel and Queen Mariana. The famous pear-shaped white nacreous pearl continued with its line of admirers when Phillip II wore the pearl as a hat ornament to the wedding of his daughter Marie Therese to King Louis XIV of France in 1660.
Eventually the legendary pearl was returned to Spain where it remained in the crown treasury until 1808 when Spain was captured by Napoleon Bonaparte and the illustrious jewel became the property of his brother Joseph Bonaparte – newly installed to the Spanish throne.
Joseph Bonaparte ruled Spain until 1813 when an Anglo-Spanish-Portuguese force led by the Duke of Wellington of England defeated a French army commanded by Joseph Bonaparte at the Battle of Vitoria. This decisive battle enabled Wellington’s forces to gain control of three provinces of northern Spain on the Bay of Biscay bordering the Pyrenees mountain range and eventually caused the French forces to retreat back into France.
After the defeat, it is reported that Joseph Bonaparte carried the famous pearl along with many other gems within the Spanish Crown of Jewels back to France.
Then in 1815, Joseph Bonaparte took the famous Gulf of Panama pearl with him when he went into exile in the United States. He later emigrated to Genoa and then Florence Italy where he died in 1844 bequeathing the renowned jewel to his nephew Charles Louis Bonaparte.
Next in line to own the famous pearl was Lord James Hamilton, the 2nd Marques of Abercorn, who bought the gem from Charles Louis Bonaparte at a time of severe financial challenges for the former wealthy heir.
Lord Hamilton’s wife, Lady Louisa Jane Russell, wore the distinguished pearl as the focal point of an ornate necklace at many formal occasions held at Buckingham Palace.
She eventually bestowed the pearl to her son the 2nd Duke of Abercorn where it remained in the Abercorn family for nearly 100 years.
Finally it was assigned to the House of Sotheby’s in London and placed on auction in 1969 where it was purchased by a very famous British actor for his equally famous American actress wife as a Valentine’s present.
Oh, the identity of this most celebrated pearl? It’s called La Peregrina.
And the purchaser was a noted lover and collector of world-class jewelry of historical and provenance significance – a man who had such an intense obsession for his wife that he was reported to have said, “I cannot see life without Elizabeth. She is my everything – my breath, my blood, my mind and my imagination.”
Yes. The buyer was none other than Richard Burton for wife Elizabeth Taylor – who remains the owner of this incredible pearl that has literally passed through and had been admired by many of the aristocratic families of Spain, France and Britain.
And? it all began with its discovery in the Las Perlas.
Rob Kircher is an International marketing and advertising specialist, writer and filmmaker.