Jewelry & Watches

This Is the Most Elusive Piece of Pearl Jewelry From Christie's 250-Year-Old Archives

And it's been worn by French royalty, from Napoleon's second wife Empress Marie-Louise to Empress Eugenie.

Get ready to pick your jaw up off the floor. The new book "Christie's: The Jewellery Archives Revealed" (ACC Art Books, $95) explores the auction house's most exquisite jewels to be sold over the past 250 years.

Included in the collection are Elizabeth Taylor's emerald and diamond Bulgari necklace and the tiara worn by Princess Margaret on her wedding day. There are certainly a number of breathtaking pieces, but none is as elusive as the La Regénte pearl.


"It has travelled the world in very mysterious circumstances," the book's author Vincent Meylan, a specialist in precious stones and high jewelry, tells

Sold three different times at Christie's, the gem dates back to French royalty. As the book notes, it is also one of the largest pearls in the world at 302.68 grains in weight–a form of measurement jewelers use to measure pearls (one grain equals 0.25 carats), according to the International Gem Society.

Still, that pales in comparison to this mammoth of a gem discovered recently in Puerto Princesa, on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. Thought to be the world's largest pearl, it weighs in at 34 kilograms or 75 pounds, reports CNN, so not something destined to adorn a necklace any time soon.

La Regénte actually traces back to the 1800s, when Napoleon bought the gem, making it part of the "French Crown Jewels." As the book reveals, it was worn by the emperor's second wife, Empress Marie-Louise, for whom the pearl is named.

Another gorgeous piece of jewelry Marie-Louise was known to wear: an emerald-set diadem that was a wedding gift from Napoleon. In the 1950s, the emeralds were eventually replaced with 79 Persian turquoise stones.

Still, the La Regénte pearl remained a favorite of the family and was later worn by Napoleon III's wife, Empress Eugénie , who had it remounted into a brooch, Meylan tells The jewel remained part of the French royal collection until it was sold at auction in 1887 by the republic in Paris after the fall of the empire.

Next, the gem would travel to Russia, finding a home with the wealthy Youssoupov family, Meylan says. The mystery begins, however, when they went into exile in 1919.

"It was lost for 70 years until sold in New York anonymously," Meylan tells "No one knows how it left Russia."

That's the first time the pearl would make its appearance at Christie's. Later, the gem came back to the auction house in 1988, as the book notes, when it was sold in its new setting in Geneva. It sold for a second time in Geneva in 2005 for an impressive $2.5 million.

If La Regénte wasn't enough to pique your interest, take a moment to appreciate the other fine jewels Meylan highlights from his book on Christie's 250-year-old jewelry archives:

The Cambridge Lover's Knot tiara was originally created for Princess Augusta of Hesse Cassel, Duchess of Cambridge. A copy of the tiara was later worn by Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

This amethyst and diamond necklace was worn by Queen Alexandra.

Queen Elizabeth II's sister Princess Margaret wore this beautiful "Poltimore Tiara" on her wedding day in 1960.

This diamond and emerald necklace by Bulgari is from Elizabeth Taylor's collection.

Another stunner from Elizabeth Taylor: This gorgeous pearl, ruby and diamond necklace, featuring the royal Spanish pearl La Peregrina.

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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