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La Peregrina Pearl


Once owned by Elizabeth Taylor, La Peregrina sold in a 2011 Christie's New York auction after Taylor's death for a cool $11.8 million.

A slave discovered La Peregrina Pearl in 1513 off the Pearl Islands in the Gulf of Panama. It is one of the largest pearls discovered during the time, weighing in at 55.95 carats or 223.8 grains. The slave turned over the pear-shaped pearl to the administrator of the Spanish Colony of Panama. The administrator, amazed by the pearl's extraordinary size and quality, in turn rewarded the slave with his freedom.

When the administrator returned to Spain, the pearl became part of the Spanish Crown Jewels. This was during the reign of King Charles V. Here begins La Peregrina's journey across the world — this journey is where the pearl gets its name. The Spanish 'La Peregrina' translates to 'the Pilgrim' or 'the Wanderer.'

In 1554, Philip II gifted La Peregrina to Queen Mary I of England as wedding present. Mary frequently wore the pearl as a pendant and brooch until her death in 1558. After her death, the pearl returned to Spain. It remained here for over 200 years.

When Napoleon Bonaparte captured Spain in 1808, he named his brother, Joseph, King of Spain. Five years later, Bonaparte transported the pearl with him to France after Joseph was forced out. After France, the pearl made its way to England. In 1969, Richard Burton purchased La Peregrina at Sotheby's London for $37,000. Burton famously outbid a member of the Spanish royal family. He gave the pearl to his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, as a Valentine's Day gift.

Taylor commissioned Cartier to design a necklace incorporating the famous pearl. A portrait of Queen Mary of Scotland wearing La Peregrina inspired her. Cartier created Taylor the ultimate choker necklace, embellished with rubies, diamonds and more pearls. The pear-shaped La Peregrina Pearl was the focal point. Cartier created a truly incredible and striking piece of pearl jewelry. Taylor loved the necklace so much, she wore it in several of her films.

After Taylor's death, La Peregrina sold in a 2011 Christie's New York auction for over $11.8 million — a staggering difference from the $37,000 Richard Burton originally paid for the pearl.