Pearl Necklace


With Valentines’ Day on the horizon, what better time to look at one of the most documented and tumultuous romances of all time, … that of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. 

One of the most famous of Valentine’s Day gifts was from Richard Burton to his wife Elizabeth Taylor. That gift was a pearl. At an auction in 1969, having outbid the Spanish Royal Family, Burton purchased Elizabeth the 16th century La Peregrina Pearl, one of the largest and most perfect pear-shaped pearls in the world for $37,000.00.

Elizabeth Taylor

Credit: Vogue UK  Everett Collection Inc

The romance of these two Hollywood legends Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton captivated audiences for decades.   Whilst filming Cleopatra the romance swept off the screen and their torrid yet passionate relationship dominated the public domain for years.   Their wedding in 1964 was reported as the “marriage of the century”.    

The history of the Peregrina Pearl was that it was found by an enslaved African forced to work off the coast of the isle of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama sometime in the mid 16th century.  The pearl was subsequently turned over to the Spanish Colony in Panama.  The pearl was taken to Spain and given to Philip II who gave the pearl to his bride, Mary I of England.  After Mary’s death, La Peregrina spent the next 250 years languishing amongst the Spanish Crown Jewels.  When Joseph Bonaparte was dethroned as King of Spain in 1813, he took some of the crown jewels including La Peregrina.  Josephine Bonaparte willed the pearl to Napoleon III of France who subsequently sold it to James Hamilton who became the Duke of Abercorn.  The Hamilton family held on to the pearl for more than half a century but put it up for auction at Sothebys in 1969.

Elizabeth Taylor once mislaid the pearl.  Given it’s weight it had fallen out of its clasp.  She searched high and low only to locate the pearl inside the mouth of one of her puppies.   She is quoted “I just casually opened the puppy’s mouth and inside his mouth was the most perfect pearl in the world.  It was – thank God – not scratched.”

Subsequently, she had the pearl reset in a ruby, pearl and diamond necklace designed by Cartier.

Their very public on and off again marriage ended in divorce in 1974.  However, within a matter of months they were to reconcile and re-married in 1975.  Sadly this second attempt at marriage failed and they were divorced for a second time in 1976.   Both Burton and Taylor made public that their love for each other would last forever but sadly, they were unable to live together.  It is believed they remained close friends until Burton passed away in 1984.

After Taylor’s death, La Peregrina was put up for auction at Christies in 2011.  It was expected to fetch close to $3 million.  The resulting sale price was an unprecedented $11,842,500.   The owners remain silent on their identity.

With its history of famous owners and many travels, La Peregrina Pearl certainly lived up to its meaning of “The Wanderer”.


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