From the sandy beaches of the Pearl Islands, to the hands of the English kingdom, to the court of France, and finally to the Hollywood hills, the La Peregrina Pearl is easily the most famous pearl in the world as well as one of the largest. In our final Monday Mystery installment, we will cover the strange journey of this legendary pearl.
The La Peregrina Pearl started its journey on the coast of the isle of Santa Margarita, part of the Pearl Islands, in the Gulf of Panama in roughly the 16th century. The pearl was discovered by an African slave who then turned it over to the administrator of the Spanish colony in Panama, Don Pedro de Temez. At 223.8 grains, the pear shaped pearl was of such extraordinary quality that Don Pedro rewarded the slave with freedom.
Don Pedro carried the pearl back to Spain where he gave it to Philip II, who then presented the pearl to Mary I of England as an anticipatory present in honor of their wedding. It is at this point that the La Peregrina starts accumulating a reputation for being cursed. Following their marriage, Mary Tudor goes through two phantom pregnancies and her husband, who had no love for her, left Mary and returned to Spain. Four years after his departure, Mary I died alone in 1558. After her death, the La Peregrina pearl was returned to the Spanish court.
During the following century, the Hapsburg dynasty created by Philip had self-destructed by 1700. Philip himself died a terribly painful death by gout, fever, and edema over the period of 52 days. In 1808 Napoleon’s older brother, Joseph Bonaparte, became the King of Spain. He ruled for five years before being forced out after the defeat at the battle of Vitoria and he took the pearl with him. At this time the pearl was dubbed the “La Peregrina,” Spanish for “the Wanderer” or “the Pilgrim.”
The pearl changed hands multiple times over the next several years, including Spanish queens Margarita and Isabel, until the Hamilton family placed the pearl up for auction at Sotheby’s in London in 1969. Richard Burton purchased the pearl for $37,000, outbidding a member of the Spanish royal family, to give to Elizabeth Taylor as a Valentine’s Day gift. Elizabeth, ever the lover of jewelry, worn the La Peregrina frequently, including in movies Anne of the Thousand Days, Divorce His – Divorce Hers, and A Little Night Music.
Elizabeth Taylor later commissioned Cartier to update the setting for the La Peregrina pearl, with the design influenced by a portrait of Mary I wearing the pearl. The new setting included diamonds, rubies, and additional pearls. Elizabeth was also said to have been struck by the pearl’s curse, given her tumultuous relationship with Richard Burton and her eight marriages. After Elizabeth’s death, the La Peregrina pearl necklace sold at auction at Christie’s for $11 million.
Cursed or not, we hope you enjoyed our Monday Mystery series and we wish you an early happy Halloween!
See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 of the Monday Mystery series.
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