Famous Pearls

By Margaret Burgon Klemp

Pearls were discovered off the north coast of Venezuela at the islands of Cubagua and Margarita by Spanish conquistadors. They offered the Spanish queens an elongated pearl they named Peregrina. A famous Margarita pearl was given to Jacqueline Kennedy by the President of Venezuela when she and her husband made an official visit to Caracas. The Margarita pearls are named after the island where they are found.

La Peregrina is known as "The Pilgrim" and was discovered in Panama during the mid-sixteenth century. Explorers took it back to Spain and gave it to King Phillip as a present for the queen. It belonged to Spanish and French royalty, and was finally bought by the Marquis of Abercorn and it migrated to England. In 1969 it was purchased by actor Richard Burton, and was given to his wife Elizabeth Taylor. This particular pearl cost Burton $37,000 at the time. The La Peregrina needs to give a lot of credit for being famous to its' very beautiful and well-known owner. It is worn as a beautiful pearl and diamond necklace.

Discover Many Famous Pearls

The Chinese sage Lao-tze was born in the province of Hunan and was a follower of Confucius philosophy which prompted him to develop Taoism, one of the three main religions in ancient China. There is an old Chinese legend that connects Lao-tze to the pearl. It has also been called the Pearl of Allah. However, according to Chinese legend it was Lao-tze himself that gave an amulet to his nephew with instructions to place it in a clam and let it grow into a pearl. By having his nephew do this he felt that it symbolized the growth of his philosophy, known as the "Tao" or "The Way". Eventually, according to the story, wars were actually fought over the pearl. The family who owned it decided to ship the pearl to Palawan in the Philippine Islands and hide it inside a giant clam.

This story is only a legend, but a direct descendant of Lao-tze attempted to buy it from its' owner, Wilburn Dowell Cobb when it was on display at Robert Ripley's Museum in New York. Another member of the family tried to purchase it in 1983 from Victor Barbish who bought the pearl as a present for his daughter, Gina. Cobb was raised in the Philippines and was hunting in the Palawan region when a giant clam was retrieved by a diver and the largest known pearl was found inside. It had an image on it that resembled Mohammed and it was dubbed The Pearl of Allah. It is believed to be the largest pearl in the world. The Tridacna gigas is the only mollusk on the planet that could produce a 14 pound pearl. The reason is that the sea creature is so large that sometimes the shells are used as a baptismal font by some Catholic populations in the South Seas.

It was given to Cobb in 1936 when he was instrumental in saving the life of a Palawan chieftain's son. In 1980 the pearl was sold to a Beverly Hills jeweler for $200,000. Victor Barbish purchased the pearl following William Cobb's death. Recently he donated it to the Pearl for Peace Foundation. The estimated appraisal for it was $61 million dollars. There have been other appraisals that set the retail amount at $40 million dollars. No matter how you slice it the pearl from the Philippines is quite priceless!

The Hope Pearl is a white drop-shaped freshwater blister pearl, thought to be one of the most famous pearls, and perhaps the largest saltwater specimen in existence. This pearl was first owned by Henry Hope the gem collector who also once owned the Hope Diamond. Today it can be seen at the British Museum of Natural History.

Famous Pearls Found in the US

There are two very famous pearls that were discovered in the United States. The Big Pink Pearl was found off the coast of California in 1990. It is considered to be the largest natural abalone pearl discovered. Wesley Rankin is the diver who found it while diving near Petaluma, California. The appraisal price set for it in 1991 was $4.7 million dollars.

The first famous pearl found in the United States was The Queen Pearl, and its' discovery launched a pearl rush to New England. A shoemaker named David Howell came upon a pearl while he was eating mussels, and although it was badly damaged by the cooking process it was enough to cause an influx of pearl hunters into New Jersey and New England. The Queen Pearl was actually discovered by a carpenter who found it in a small stream. He sold the lovely pink gem to Charles Tiffany, and Tiffany in turn sold to Princess Eugenie of France. Hence, it became known as The Queen Pearl. When the princess needed to leave France in 1870 she used it to pay for her escape. Thomas Evans was an American dentist who was also a friend of French royalty, and he assisted the princess in her flight from the chaos of 1870 France. Evans collection of gems was left to the Philadelphia Dental School upon his death, and later The Queen Pearl along with other gems was sold to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York. The pearl resides there today.

There are whole collections of famous pearls: for example, The Mary Queen of Scots Pearls were purchased by Mary's cousin, Elizabeth I. The original collection consisted of roughly 600 pearls. Morgan-Tiffany Pearls are a group of North American freshwater pearls owned by the American Museum of Natural History. Some famous pearl groups are famous because of the how they have been used. Southern Cross Pearls were used to design and develop a cross while the Thiers grouping of pearls were used to make a special necklace for the first President of France. A special necklace was crafted for the wife of U.S. President, Martin Van Buren. These pearls are know as the Van Buren pearls and are now on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.


Gems: A Lively Guide for the Casual Collector, Daniel J. Dennis Jr., 1999 Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, New York

Gemstones: Symbols of Beauty and Power, Eduard Gubelin and Franz-Xaver Erni, Geoscience Press, Tucson, Arizona

Wikipedia on Pearl

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