Jewel of the Month

La Peregrina- A natural pearl, diamond, ruby and cultured pearl necklace by Cartier

La Peregrina necklace by Cartier, 1972, and a close- up of the famous pearl. Image THE JEWELLERY EDITOR

As jewels are my first love and jewelry collecting has long been a pastime of my family, I’ve always loved researching gems and jewelry making. Therefore, I’ve decided to share the glitz by bringing some of the world’s most fabulous jewels in a monthly feature on the blog. To start things off, join me in appreciating one of the world’s most fabled and famous pearls, the unparalleled, La Peregrina!

La Peregrina suspended on a seed pearl and platinum chain necklace, the original setting on which Richard Burton purchased it in 1969. Image CHRISTIE’S AUCTION HOUSE

Currently dangling from a necklace co-designed in 1972 by Elizabeth Taylor and Al Durante of Cartier, La Peregrina necklace is a two- strand choker comprising of fifty-six natural pearls and four cultured pearls, intersected by eight ‘flame motif’ stations of circular-cut diamonds and cushion-cut rubies set in platinum and gold. Suspended from the necklace hangs detachable links- a pearl and a ruby, a large ‘flame motif’ gold station set with old mine and rose- cut diamonds with a large pear- shaped ruby, and finally, La Peregrina. This pearl pendant is a natural teardrop shaped pearl weighing approximately 50.06 carats (202.24 grains) and measuring approximately 17.35 – 17.90 x 25.50 mm. The pearl is entirely detachable, allowing the choker- length necklace to be worn on it’s own, the ruby pendant station to be worn as a brooch and La Peregrina can be worn either with this setting, or as a pendant for a seed pearl and platinum necklace that accompanied the set.

La Peregrina necklace by Cartier, shown is the original design drawing by Al Durante, with notes by Elizabeth Taylor in red (left), and the finished work, photographed by the jeweler. Images CARTIER ARCHIVES

One of the most storied pearls in the world, the name La Peregrina translates to “The Pilgrim” or “The Wanderer”, and is a gem with over 500 years of recorded Royal history. First recorded in the mid- 16th century, it was the largest pearl then discovered at that time and remains one of the largest perfectly- symmetrical pear- shaped pearls in the world.

La Peregrina in all it’s dazzling splendour on display in Christie’s Auction House. Image CHRISTIE’S AUCTION HOUSE

Found off the cost of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama, La Peregrina was carried to Spain by the conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa and gifted to the Spanish King Ferdinand V. It remained a part of the Spanish Crown jewels for over a century until King Phillip II presented it to his bride Mary I of England, on their wedding day.

Mary I of England (Mary Tudor), by Hans Eworth, 1554, wearing La Peregrina as the hanging pendant of her elaborate brooch/pendant. Image NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY LONDON

Queen Mary had the pearl set as a pendant to a brooch and wore it often in many famous portraits. After her death in 1558, La Peregrina was returned to the Crown of Spain, where it remained as part of the Crown jewelry for the next 250 years. It was a favourite ornament of many Spanish queens, particularly Anna of Austria (second wife of Phillip II), Margaret of Austria (wife of Philip III) and Queens Élizabeth of France and Mariana of Austria, the wives of Philip IV. It appears in many Spanish royal portraits, and it’s image appears in some of the most cherished paintings of the world’s finest museums- particularly Spain’s Museo National del Prado.

Four famous Spanish Queens who loved La Peregrina (clockwise, from top left) Anna of Austria by Alonso Sánchez Coello, 1571 (La Peregrina is worn as a pendant on a pearl necklace), Margaret of Austria by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, 1606 (wearing La Peregrina as a brooch pendant), Élisabeth of France by Diego Velázquez, 1635 (La Peregrina is worn as a pendant on a bejewelled stomacher) and Mariana of Austria by Diego Velázquez, 1649 (wearing La Peregrina as a pendant on a hair ornament). Images KUNSTHISTORISCHES MUSEUM VIENNA/MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS HOUSTON/MUSEO DEL PRADO/FINE ARTS MUSEUM OF SAN FRANSISCO

La Peregrina became part of the jewels of the French Bonaparte ‘Royal’ family in 1808 when Joseph Bonaparte was installed by his brother as king of Spain. It remained in Spain during the five years of Bonaparte’s rule until he returned to France after the Battle of Vitoria with part of the Spanish Crown Jewels. Napoleon III inherited the pearl after his uncle’s death, but was forced to sell it to the Marquis of Albercorn in 1848 after falling into financial difficulties.

The Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1854, wearing La Peregrina as an earring. Image METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF NEW YORK

After this, little is known about the pearl’s history until it was sold at auction by Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York in 1969 to Richard Burton, who bought it as a Valentine’s Day present for his wife, iconic actress Elizabeth Taylor. La Peregrina was set as a pearl pendant in 1972 by Cartier’s Al Durante and suspended from the stunning Cartier necklace. Prior to this, La Peregrina was worn as a brooch, a pendant on a necklace, the centerpiece of a necklace and as a hat ornament.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina on the set of Anne of the Thousand Days in 1969 (left), she is wearing the pearl on the original setting purchased by Richard Burton, and in 1997, wearing the Cartier necklace in a photoshoot for Arts & Antiques Magazine. Images UNIVERSAL STUDIOS/FRED WARD

La Peregrina remained with Elizabeth Taylor until her death in March 2011. It was then sold at auction (mounted on the Cartier necklace) as part of her private jewelry collection for the record price of more than $11 million (£7.1m). It was purchased by an anonymous buyer.

What a fittingly adventurous story for such an amazing gem.

Xx – Ana

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