Famous Pearls

A few famous pearls--natural, cultured, freshwater or saltwater, stand out among the millions of pearls over the centuries that have been enjoyed by people.

Read about these pearls, their stories, history, prices, characteristics, discoverers, and their adventures through the maze of human existence.

photograph of pink pearls

Photograph of Pink Pearls-click on pearls for more photographs of pearls.

ABERNETHY PEARL--This natural famous pearl was discovered as recently as 1967, when William Abernethy, a Scottish pearl diver, found it in the River Tay. This light pink spherical pearl also endearingly referred to as "Little Willie," weighed 93 grains which is about 2200mm. It was moved to Cairncross Jewelry store in Perth, Scotland, when it was sold for an undisclosed amount. I recently had the pleasure of viewing, photographing and writing a page about this amazing natural pearl. Read more about Scottish Pearling here.

Abernethy Pearl

APHRODITE PIN--So...how far back did people value pearls? Well...this pin from the sanctuary of Aphrodite in Cyprus, dating 300 BC gives us a clue. It's one of the oldest objects containing pearls, making these famous pearls, which are thought to be of different origins...the larger one saltwater and the smaller one freshwater.

Can be viewed at the British Museum.

BOSSES' STRING OF PEARLS --Mikimoto's famous pearls which he gathered over a 10 year period and hand picked himself for this graduated pearl necklace. This treasured necklace consists of 49 large pearls. The center pearl is 14mm in diameter. It's on display at the Mikimoto Memorial Hall on Pearl Island in Toba, Japan.

I photographed this at the Mikimoto Pearl Island museum at Toba, Japan.

Mikimoto's Bosses String of Pearls

CANNING JEWEL--A jewelry piece from the 16th century containing an unusual baroque famous pearl used as Greek sea god, Triton's torso, which bears a trumpet of a large shell.

CHESSY'S MEDALLIONS--Two Ohio River famous pearls found near the same location, but years apart. Sizes are 18.2mm x 14mm x 12.9mm and 16mm x 12.5mm x 10.03mm and are mounted individually in 18K yellow gold surrounded by princess diamonds. They are a part of the Latendresse collection.

CLEOPATRA'S PEARL--Reportedly, Cleopatra ground up one of her large earring pearls and drank it to win a wager with Marc Antony. The pearl's mate was cut in half for earrings to adorn the statue of Venus in the Pantheon in Rome.

CONCH PEARL NECKLACE--1900-1910--A natural conch pearl (4.7 grams) necklace, designed for Charles Walters of Baltimore, by George F. Kunz, gemologist for Tiffany & Co. and curator for the American Museum of Natural History, allows the pearl to be removed from the platinum and diamond basket.

Displayed at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

CHRYSANTHAMUM BROOCH--Made by Tiffany & Co. of American River Pearls

Chrysamthamum Brooch

DODGE PEARLS--Pearl Necklace linked to Russia’s Catherine The Great And Anna Thomson Dodge, containing three strands of natural pearls sold for $600,000.

Dodge Pearls

EINSTEIN--Owned by the Latendresse family and named by John Latendresse's daugters, it measures 31.4mm x 22.9mm x 15.89mm and weighs 63.51 carats. It's the largest gem quality rosebud pearl and is a deep pink color. At one time, Mr. Latendresse was offered $50,000 for this pearl, but didn't sell it. Einstein is an American river pearl.

FOSSIL PEARLS --So, what happens to pearls when they fossilize? Well, it depends. These are now famous pearls because they maintained their luster because of the mud, which was London clay, that they were buried in, which turned to rock and prevented the nacre from dissolving.

HOPE PEARL--This was named for its original owner who also owned the Hope Diamond, Philip (Henry) Hope. This freshwater natural river famous pearl, a pear shaped baroque, is about 2"X4 1/2" weighing 1,800 grains (3-4 ounces) and ranging in color from white to greenish-gold with a fine luster.

Hope Pearl
Hope Pearl

View the Hope Pearl at the British Museum of Natural History.

ISLE OF CHELON--A round California abalone pearl measuring 18.35mm x 17.25mm x 15.75mm. John Latendresse purchased this beauty from Lowell Jones who died of AIDS in the 1980's.

JOHN'S PRIZE--John Latendresse's "pearl among pearls." A perfectly round natural American pearl from the Black River in Arkansas found in 1966. Larger than a dime, at 17.4mm, with lustrous creamy white with pink overtones, John's prize was found by an older diver who never enjoyed the extra money that John Latendresse tried to pay him. Originally, sight unseen, John paid $500 for this pearl. After seeing it, he determined to find the diver and pay him an additional $4,500. Unfortunately, during the months it took to find the diver, he died a pauper's death and was buried in Newport, Arkansas.

I saw this necklace at the traveling Pearl Exhibition in Tokyo.

JOMON PEARL OF JAPAN--The oldest known extant pearl, dates back 5,500 years.

KELLIE PEARL--Scottish pearl found in the Aberdeenshire River in 1621 and is now in the Scottish Crown jewels in a crown.

LA PELEGRINA --"The Incomparable," weighs 111.5 grains and once was part of the Spanish crown jewels. An egg shape with a silvery luster that makes it appear almost transparent with a rose cut diamond foliate cap and circular cut diamond surmount.. Also known as the ZOZIMA PEARL, after the Russian czar's jeweler. Thought to be found off the coast of South America, in addition to being in Spain, has also been in France as a wedding gift from King Philip IV to his daughter Maria Theresa when marrying Louis XIV in 1660. Then it traveled to India and to Russia during the 18th century when sold to Princess Youssoupoff (1769-1841) who wore it as a single earring and had it passed down through the generations. It was sold at Christie's in 1987 for $463,800.

Queen Mary and La Peregrina

LA PEREGRINA--one of the most famous of all famous pearls is also called "Wanderer," was found in 1500 by a slave in the Gulf of Panama. He gained his freedom for finding it. The Spanish crown owned it and Prince Philip II gave it to his wife, Mary Tudor of England as a wedding gift and they passed it down to Queen Margarita and Queen Isabel (wife of Philip III). Velesquez painted two separate portraits (1634-35) of Queen Margarita and Queen Isabel on horseback each wearing La Peregrina.

In the 1800's the Bonaparte family had possession of it.

In 1969 Richard Burton purchased it for $37,000 as a gift for Elizabeth Taylor--read "Case of Missing Pearl" here.

LA REGENTE --or La Perle Napoléon--one of the largest famous pearls in the world and the largest of the famous pearls which is regular in shape. In the shape and dimension of a pigeon egg, it weighs 346.27 grains. Royalty was given special pricing, which ensured their prestige, so was bought for only 40,000 gold francs. Its purchasing power is about 500,000 euros today. It was sold to Napoleon on September 1811 and nothing is known about it before that date. It's assumed to have been discovered close to that date. La Regente not only has a smooth lustrous surface, regular shape, and large size, but also famous historical pedigree making it special among famous pearls.

LATENDRESSE'S LABOR OF LOVE--This graduated pearl necklace took 25 years to construct of exquisitely matched Tennessee River pearls. Pearl sizes range from 11.5mm-3mm. Total weight is 128.29 carats.

I saw these famous pearls at the traveling pearl exhibition in Tokyo.

LOCH BUY BROOCH--Scotland c1300--This brooch with Scottish freshwater pearls was worn by a man on his shoulder to secure a rectangular cloth slung over the shoulder called a "brat". The brooch also contains not only famous pearls, but silver gilt and rock crystal with a compartment under the rock crystal which could hold a small object. The MacLeans of Loch Buy were former owners of this brooch.

Interesting, isn't it, that the manly men of Scotland were comfortable and even proud to wear skirts and brooches.

Can be viewed at the British Museum Scroll down when viewing link.

LOVER'S KNOT PEARL TIARA --Jusupov Collection--This stunning tiara has pearl drops dangling from lover's knot bows and is topped with pear shaped famous pearls, plus nineteen diamond arches.

Click on link to view a painting of Princess Tatyana Alexandrovna Yusupove by Winterhalter in 1858 wearing this tiara with the famous pearls. Tatiana Jussoupova had a daughter named Zenaide (1861-1939)

MARILYN MONROE MIKIMOTO NECKLACE--Given as a gift on their honeymoon by husband, Joe Dimaggio.

Monroe Mikimoto Pearl Necklace

NAUTLIS CUP--This is a famous mother of pearl item--nautilus shells have fascinated people for centuries. The carving on this one, possible because the soft shell of aragonite, includes small cupids or putti, a common motif of the 19th century. Enhanced with silver, it was made in 1830.

Located at the Musee Oceanographique, Monoco.

Purchase stunning nautilus posters here and read Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem, "The Chambered Nautilus".

NECKLACE OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS--Mary, Queen of Scots, while imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth, gave this necklace made between 1550-1587 with gold and 34 natural freshwater famous pearls from the River Tay, Scotland, to the Duke of Norfold, whom she planned on making her fourth husband. The marriage, however, didn't happen.

PEARL OF ALLAH--The Pearl of Allah, the largest pearl on record of famous pearls, was recovered from a giant clam on May 7, 1934, off the coast of Palawan Island, Philippines. The pearl of allah is 9.4 inches long and weighs about 14 lbs. According to the "Guinness Book of Records," the San Francisco Gem Laboratory has valued the pearl at $40 million. The Muslim diver who found the pearl of allah said its surface bore the image of a turbaned face, and he named it the Pearl of Allah.

Pearl of Allah

I've seen a replica of this gigantic pearl and the clam it came from at the traveling Pearl Exhibit in Tokyo...amazing!

PEARL OF MANY COLORS--Found in the Cumberland River and theorized that the variegated colors (blue, green, bright pink) came from metallic content near a chrome plating plant. This treasure weighs 38.18 carats and measures 24.2mm x 21.9mm x 15.93mm and is owned by the Latendresse family.

QUEEN PEARL--New Jersey...a place we don't associate with famous pearls was "birth place" to this beauty. In 1857, a shoemaker named David Howell, while eating mussels, found a large pearl of 400 grains (100 carats) on his plate...unfortunately, it was spoiled by the heat from frying the mussels. However, the rush was on and a carpenter named Mr. Jacob Quackenbush found in this little stream, a lovely pink pearl with a good shape weighing 93 grains (over 13 carats). Purchased by Charles Tiffany for $1500 and sold to Empress Eugenie, it became known as the "Queen Pearl."

At the traveling pearl exhibit in Tokyo, I viewed a shell from New Jersey that wasn't too big with an inscription inside which stated there had been a valuable pearl found inside.

ROMAN NECKLACE--Roman empire AD. 100-200--Romans liked to combine natural famous pearls with gold and emeralds.

View this section of a Roman necklace at the British museum.

SAPPHIRE AND PEARL BROOCH --This All-American brooch with freshwater famous pearls from Wisconsin and Tennessee and sapphires from Montana, designed for Tiffany & Co. was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition of 1900.

I've just read an interesting "letter to the editor" in a Victoria magazine about a girl who kept wondering what all the beautiful blue stones were on her farm in Montana...of course, after it was sold, they discovered they were sapphires. Oh well, she had the joy of playing with them as a youngster.

Folks in my town, Muscatine, Iowa, former Pearl Button Capitol of the World, tell how pearl buyers used to come and buy natural freshwater pearls by the pound from the shell clammers.

SASSANIAN, KING OF PERSIA PEARL--During a battle with the Huns the king threw his large perfect pearl in the mud rather than have it be captured by the enemy.

SNAKE-TOPPED STICKPIN--Thomas W. Evans, Philadelphia dentist and friend of Empress Eugenia of France, owned this mid-nineteenth century pink baroque pearl stickpin. Experts speculate that this could be the famous Queen pearl found in New Jersey.

Snake-Topped Stickpin

Can be seen at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York.

At the traveling Pearl Exhibit in Tokyo, I saw a shell from New Jersey from which came a valuable pearl. Was the shell large? No, it was a normal sized shell. I was surprised that a valuable pearl could from in it.

SOUTHERN CROSS PEARL--Australia, with the southern cross on its flag and under the constellation, "Southern Cross," in the sky of the southern hemisphere, also produced an interesting formation of nine famous pearls in the form of a cross in its seas. With 7 pearls as its vertical and 2 on each arm, it's now a part of England's crown jewels.

SURVIVAL--Survival, a large snail pearl, and a part of the Lantendresse collection is 30.5mm x 25.2mm x 15.15mm, weighs 90.35 carats and is a lovely lavender color.

TENNESSEE'S TRIBUTARIES--Three Tennessee River wing famous pearls similar in size, shape and weight. Each are over 26 carats and measure from 49.2mm-42.6mm long. These famous pearls are owned by the Latendresse family who also own a wing pearl that measures 64mm long.

VENUS--A 19.15 carat pink turtleback measuring 16.9mm x 11.5mm, which fell out of a mollusk when opened. It's a part of the Latendresse famous pearls collection.

Go to main famous pearls page here.

More Famous Pearls and Collections

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