World’s largest freshwater pearl, once owned by Catherine the Great, to sell at auction

The Sleeping Lion pearl. Gemmological Association of Great Britain handout photo

The Sleeping Lion pearl. Gemmological Association of Great Britain handout photo

The world's largest known freshwater pearl, which once belonged to Catherine the Great, will go on sale in the Netherlands later this month, the auctioneers announced Thursday.

Known as the Sleeping Lion pearl due to its distinctive shape, the pearl was likely formed in the first half of the 18th century in Chinese waters, possibly even the Pearl River.

Auction house Venduehuis said the jewel weighs some 120 grams (600 carats) and is almost seven centimeters long making it one of the three largest known pearls in the world. It has an estimated value of between 340,000 and 540,000 euros ($400,000 to $637,000).

Around 1765, the pearl was shipped to Batavia, now known as Jakarta, by a Dutch merchant of the United East Indies Company. It was there that it came into ownership of the company's accountant, Hendrik Coenraad Sander.

"After Sander passed away, the pearl was auctioned off in Amsterdam in 1778 and acquired by Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia," the auction house said in a statement.

Catherine had the pearl displayed in the Hermitage in St Petersburg until 1796.

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Kari's note: The SSEF lab in Switzerland studied "The Sleeping Lion" and you can find their article on page 13 of their 2017 publication of SSEF - Facette magazine. (

According to SSEF and new technology available to them "The Sleeping Lion" would today be classified as a "Blister" and not a "Blister Pearl" but since the current technology wasn't present years ago when the pearl was named, it is understandable that it was labeled as a pearl.

Regardless of current research, it is still a very unique and interesting collector's item!

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