The World's Most Famous Pearl

At Orchira we pride ourselves on the quality of pearls we use, but the most desirable pearls in the world are so rare that most people would be lucky to see, let alone own them. One such pearl is La Peregrina; often considered the world's most famous example.

La Peregrina is by no means the biggest pearl ever found: that honour belongs to a 14 pound specimen from a giant clam that is worth in the region of $60 million. At 11 grams, La Peregrina is a large pearl, but it is its perfect pear-shape, white colour and rich history that accounts for its value.

The pearl was first discovered off the central American island of Santa Margarita by an African slave in the mid 1500s; although the slave had to give it up, he was rewarded with his freedom. His Spanish masters passed it back to the country's King Phillip II, who presented it to his future wife, England's Mary the First. She wore it as a pearl pendant, seen in many paintings. After she died, the pearl returned to the Spanish royal family and passed down to the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. He sold it to James Hamilton, a British politician and Viscount.

In 1969, the Hamilton family auctioned La Peregrina, raising $37,000. The winning bidder, Richard Burton presented it to Elizabeth Taylor as a Valentine's Day gift. He later had it set as the centrepieces of a diamond, ruby and pearl necklace from Cartier. After Taylor's death, her estate sold it at auction for more than $10 million.

La Peregrina is sometime confused with La Pelegrina, found in the same location at a similar time, though only half the size. That pearl made its way through the royal families of Spain and France before being stolen in 1792. It later surfaced in Russia where it was smuggled out of the country during the 1917 revolution by one of the men who killed Rasputin.