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Antonis Mor (after), Mary I of England wearing a pendant with La Peregrina (1554)
Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain wearing the pearl (c. 1606)
Peter Paul Rubens, Elisabeth of France, Queen of Spain wearing the pearl (c. 1625)

La Peregrina is one of the most famous pearls in the world. Its history spans almost 500 years, and it has passed from the African slave who found it at Pearl Islands in the Gulf of Panama, to European kings and queens. More recently, the pearl belonged to Elizabeth Taylor.[1][2]


Origin of nameEdit

La Peregrina is a Spanish word. It means "the Pilgrim" or "the Wanderer".[2]

Physical characteristicsEdit

The original weight of this pear-shaped pearl was 223.8 grains, (55.95 carats, 11.2 g). At the time of its discovery, it was the largest pearl ever found. In 1913 the pearl had to be drilled and cleaned to secure it firmly to its setting. After drilling and cleaning, the pearl's weight decreased to 203.84 grains. La Peregrina remains one of the largest perfectly symmetrical pear-shaped pearls in the world.[2]


The pearl was found by an African slave on the coast of the isle of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama in the mid-16th century. Some stories claim that the pearl was found in 1513, but at that time there were no African slaves on the islands. The pearl was given to Don Pedro de Temez, the administrator of the Spanish colony in Panama. The slave who found it was rewarded with freedom.[2][3]

The pearl was carried to Spain and given by Temez to the future Philip II of Spain. It was in anticipation of his marriage to Mary I of England that Philip presented her La Peregrina. Mary wore the pearl as a pendant to a brooch, as seen in the famous portrait of her by Antonis Mor, which is exhibited in the Prado Museum in Madrid (copy in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston), as well as other portraits drawn by various artists between 1553 and 1558 (Hans Eworth, National Portrait Gallery, London).

After her death in 1558, the pearl was returned to the Crown of Spain, where it remained as part of the crown jewelry for the next 250 years. It became one of the favorite ornaments for the Spanish queens of that time. Margaret of Austria, wife of Philip III, wore the pearl for the celebration of the peace treaty between Spain and England in 1605. Portraits made by Diego Velázquez are evidence that the pearl was prized by both Elisabeth of France and Mariana of Austria, wives of Philip IV.[4] The equestrian portrait of Elisabeth, Philip IV's first wife, shows her wearing the pearl. Mariana, her successor, was painted with the pearl as well.[2][3]

In 1808 the elder brother of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte, was installed as king of Spain. His rule continued for five years, and when he was forced to leave the kingdom, after the defeat of the French forces at the Battle of Vitoria, he took some of the crown jewels with him, including La Peregrina. At that time, the pearl got its name "La Peregrina - the Wanderer". In his will, Joseph Bonaparte left the pearl to his nephew, the future Napoleon III of France.

During his exile in England, the Emperor sold it to James Hamilton, Marquess and later Duke of Abercorn. Abercorn bought the pearl for his wife, Louisa. The pearl was very heavy and it fell out of its necklace's setting on at least two occasions. The first time, the pearl got lost in a sofa in Windsor Castle; the second time, during a ball at Buckingham Palace. On both occasions, the pearl was recovered.[1] The Hamilton family owned the pearl until 1969, when they sold it at auction at Sotheby's in London.[2]

Richard Burton purchased the pearl at the Sotheby's auction for $37,000. He gave it to his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, as a Valentine's Day gift during their first marriage. On one occasion, the pearl went missing in the Burtons' suite at Caesar's Palace, Paradise, Nevada.[2] In her book Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry, Taylor writes:

At one point I reached down to touch La Peregrina and it wasn't there! I glanced over at Richard and thank God he wasn't looking at me, and I went into the bedroom and threw myself on the bed, buried my head into the pillow and screamed. Very slowly and very carefully, I retraced all my steps in the bedroom. I took my slippers off, took my socks off, and got down on my hands and knees, looking everywhere for the pearl. Nothing. I thought, "It's got to be in the living room in front of Richard. What am I going to do. He'll kill me! Because he loved the piece.[5]

After few minutes of mental anguish, Taylor looked at their puppies. One of them was apparently chewing on a bone, but nobody gave bones to the puppies. Taylor continues:

I just casually opened the puppy's mouth and inside his mouth was the most perfect pearl in the world. It was—thank God—not scratched.[5]

Burton sought a portrait of Mary I of England wearing the pearl. Upon the purchase of such a painting, the Burtons discovered that the British National Portrait Gallery did not have an original painting of Mary, so they donated the painting to the Gallery.[6]

Taylor commissioned Cartier to re-design the necklace, setting La Peregrina with pearls, diamonds, and rubies. In 2005, Taylor lent it to the Smithsonian Institution for its "The Allure of Pearls" exhibition.[7]

In December 2011, the pearl sold for a record price of more than $11 million (£7.1m). La Peregrina was sold as part of Elizabeth Taylor's collection, which was being auctioned at Christie's in New York. It was sold mounted on the diamond Cartier necklace. Its value had been estimated at $3 million, but the bidding vastly exceeded the estimate and reached $10.5 million - increasing to more than $11 million once the various fees were factored in.[8][9]

In the press, a second pearl has been claimed to be the Mary Tudor pearl. As of 2013, it is owned by the jewelers select Jewellers Symbolic & Chase and was to be[needs update] exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in autumn 2013. This pearl is somewhat larger than The Peregrina.[10]


  1. ^ a b Finlay, Victoria (2007-08-14). Jewels: A Secret History. Random House Trade Paperbacks. pp. 102–103. ISBN 978-0-345-46695-2.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "La Peregrina - the Pilgrim or Wanderer Pearl". 2011-05-19. Retrieved 2011-12-14.[unreliable source?]
  3. ^ a b Kunz, George Frederick; Charles Hugh Stevenson (2002-05-25). The Book of the Pearl: Its History, art, Science, and Industry. Dover Publications. p. 452. ISBN 978-0-486-42276-3.
  4. ^ See: Velázquez's Portrait of Isabel de Borbón
  5. ^ a b "Missing La Peregrina Pearl". Retrieved 2011-12-14.
  6. ^ "National Portrait Gallery - Portrait - NPG 4861; Queen Mary I". Archived from the original on 2008-12-06. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
  7. ^ "Smithsonian Institution | The Allure of Pearls". 2005-09-05. Archived from the original on 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2011-12-14.
  8. ^ "Elizabeth Taylor pearl sells for record sum - BBC News". 2011-12-14. Retrieved 2018-11-22.
  9. ^ "Elizabeth Taylor jewellery auction fetches $116m - BBC News". BBC News. 2011-12-14. Retrieved 2018-11-22.
  10. ^ "The Tudor Pearl - Medieval Histories". Archived from the original on 2017-04-29. Retrieved 2013-05-17.