Once Owned By a Spanish Princess, This Single Rare Pearl Is Valued at Approximately P78 Million
When is a single pearl worth millions? First, it has to be natural. Natural pearls are the exceedingly rare and basically extinct species that yield prices in the millions at auction. In 2011, a natural pearl known as La Peregrina sold at Christie’s for $11 million. In 2007, the famed Baroda natural pearls went for $7 million.
On May 15, Christie’s offered an especially large strand of natural pearls with an estimate of $2.5 million. And then there is The Ana Maria Pearl with an estimate of $1.5 million (estimated P78 million*). The Ana Maria, which dates from the early 16th century and has been in a noble Spanish family for centuries, is a remarkable and possibly once in a lifetime jewelry specimen.
The Ana Maria pearl
What exactly is a natural pearl? The natural pearl, is quite simply, the kind that occurs without any human interference in the water, and is formed organically within the mollusk. They are in contrast to cultured pearls, created by a process pioneered by Mikimoto in the early 1900s, where a foreign bead is inserted into the oyster, and the layers of pearl forms around that bead.
For centuries the most prized natural pearls were discovered in the Persian Gulf by teams of divers who plunged into the waters searching for treasures. They called pearls the “tears of the mermaids,” and pearls became the jewel most sought after by royals and aristocrats and all those who wanted to adorn themselves with a jewel symbolizing rarity, and taste, and power.
Exceptional natural pearl sautoir for sale at Christie's
By the early first part of the 20th century, the supply of natural pearls sharply declined. Divers had become intrigued by the booming oil industry, and the allure of black gold replaced the desire to retrieve the tears of the mermaids.
The oil industry also polluted the waters and altered the ecosystem, and all but destroyed the oyster population. Meanwhile, cultured pearls, also beautiful and not as costly, came on the market. But it’s the natural pearl that has remained the prize at auction. “Natural pearls have become extremely rare,” one dealer of some of the world’s finest natural pearls tells T&C.
“I am sure you know the story of how the Cartier mansion was exchanged for a natural pearl necklace,” says the dealer, referencing the bargain brokered between Pierre Cartier and Morton Plant for a natural pearl necklace in exchange for the Plants' townhouse on 52nd and Fifth. The value then? About $1.5 million. (Cue New York real estate watchers gasping in disbelief.)
La Peregrina, a Cartier pearl, diamond and ruby necklace owned by Elizabeth Taylor, sold for $11.8 million in 2011
“Natural pearls evoke a certain feeling and connection to the organic form of the piece. Like a great piece of art.”
No wonder they were prized by royalty. King Charles V of Spain is believed to have passed the original Ana Maria pearl in a brooch set on to his Secretario Universal and his spouse Maria de Mendoza and Pimentel, daughter of the Count of Ribadavia. According to Christie’s, which will sell the Ana Maria pearl on May 15 in Geneva, it was reset into an emerald and diamond brooch watch later but remained with the family.
“For something so precious to have survived hundreds of years, staying in the same noble family is truly remarkable,” says one jewelry expert.
The Ana Maria pearl: A natural pearl and emerald and diamond brooch-watch
Part of what's remarkable about this pearl is the cutting edge science that went into verifying its age and provenance. The pearl has undergone a new verification process that can guarantee its historical provenance from the early 16th century. “This is a first for a historic natural pearl offered at auction," says Jean-Marc Lunel, senior jewelry expert at Christie’s Geneva.
"The scientific innovation provided through radiocarbon age-dating is a critical addition to the extensive work we do on documenting the provenance of exceptional items such as the Ana Maria Pearl. To find a natural treasure with such an illustrious history is incredibly rare."
The Ana Maria will have an enormous impact on the verification process itself, especially with natural pearls where origin is not clear to the naked eye, or behind the loop—or even under a microscope, says Dr. Michael Krzemnicki, director of the Swiss Gemological Institute (SSEF).
Charlotte Hope as Princess Catherine in The Spanish Princess. Christie's is offering an especially large strand of natural pearls, just like the one Catherine would have worn.
"The Ana Maria Pearl is a perfect example to show how scientific analyses can add supporting evidence to a documented historical provenance of a jewel," Krzemnicki says. "The SSEF is a world authority for scientific testing of pearls and gemstones. Based on recent scientific research, the SSEF offers radiocarbon age dating of pearls as a new service to our clients in collaboration with the Federal Institute of Technology. This method uses the slow decay of radiocarbon in biogenic materials (e.g. pearl) as a physical clock, by which its age can be calculated."
It is, quite simply, the real deal—a pearl from a Spanish Princess. And science can now back that up.
*$1 = P52.48
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors