Pearls are created when some kind of irritant manages to get inside the shell of a mollusk. Generally speaking, pearl is used to refer to nacreous pearls produced by certain clam species, which is made out of the same substance as mother of pearl. However, it is interesting to note that other mollusks can produce non-nacreous pearls as well, though for the most part, these have either no or next-to-no commercial value. Regardless, pearls can be very valuable, which makes sense when one considers their rarity.
Basically, pearls can be separated into natural pearls and cultured pearls. Despite their names, both kinds of pearls come into existence through the same process, though natural pearls occurred in natural settings whereas cultured pearls occurred in human-controlled settings. However, natural pearls are much rarer than cultured pearls, which in turn, makes them much more valuable. The issue is that 1 in 10,000 clams will produce a pearl that is suitable for use in jewelry, which when combined with over-harvesting as well as other environmental issues, means that there are very, very few natural pearls being brought to market. Clams aren't that much likelier to produce suitable pearls in human-controlled settings, but since humans can kickstart the pearl production process before keeping the clams in conditions that will make the eventual harvest convenient, there are nonetheless a lot more cultured pearls than natural pearls.
Besides this, there are other factors that can influence the price of a particular pearl as well. For example, the size of the pearl is an obvious factor. Likewise, the color of the pearl as well as the luster of the pearl are obvious factors as well, particularly since some colors are much rarer than others. On top of this, pearls can be incorporated into wonderful examples of human craftsmanship, which can further enhance their appeal and thus their value.
10. Dodge Pearl Necklace - $1.1 Million
The story goes that this pearl necklace was once owned by Catherine the Great, who is considered to be one of the greatest Russian rulers ever. During the Russian Revolution, it was bought by Cartier, who in turn, eventually sold it to the Dodge family. There, the original necklace was broken up into a number of no less magnificent pieces.
9. Marie Antoinette Pearl Necklace - $1.47 Million
Marie Antoinette remains a figure of fascination for a lot of people out there. As such, while it isn't known how this particular pearl necklace made its way out of France, it nonetheless managed to sell for $1.47 million.
8. Big Pink - $4.7 Million
Pink is a rare color for pearls. As a result, pink pearls are precious, thus enabling them to fetch ever higher prices than otherwise possible. However, that isn't the Big Pink's sole characteristic of note. After all, its name makes it clear that it possesses an unusual size, thus further contributing to its $4.7 million.
7. Duchess of Windsor Pearl Necklace - $4.8 Million
This pearl necklace has a fair amount of history attached to it. In short, it came from Imperial Russia before making its way into the hands of King George V. He presented it to his wife Queen Mary, who in turn, passed it on to their son Edward. Famously, Edward gave up his throne so that he could get married to Bessie Wallis-Simpson. In more recent times, Wallis-Simpson bequeathed her entire collection of jewelry to the French Research Institute so that they could be sold to provide money for medical research as well as other charitable purposes.
6. Four Strand Black Pearl Necklace - $5.1 Million
Sometimes, jewelry looks its best when its components get the chance to shine. For proof, look no further than this black pearl necklace, which shows off numerous black pearls with mesmerizing overtones of green, silver, and other colors.
5. Cowdry Black Pearl Necklace - $5.3 Million
Named for the Viscountess Cowdry who once owned it, this pearl necklace has been auctioned off twice in relatively recent times. The first time, it sold for $3 million; the second time, it sold for $5.3 million. As such, it will be interesting to see what price it will fetch should it come up for auction a third time.
4. Baroda Pearl Necklace - $7.1 Million
Once upon a time, there was a seven-strand pearl necklace that belonged to the Maharajas of Baroda. Said necklace is no longer in existence because it has been broken up. However, its fame lingers on, as shown by how one of the pearls was incorporated into a double-strand pearl necklace. Said necklace was paired with pearl earrings, which managed to sell for $7.1 million.
3. Seven-Strand Festoon Pearl Necklace - $9.08 Million
This particular pearl necklace managed to sell for $9.08 million. Not much is known about its history, meaning that interested individuals can't expect much of a story. However, the value of its rose-colored pearls speaks for itself.
2. La Peregrina - $11.8 Million
La Peregrina translates to something along the line of the Pilgrim, which is an excellent name for a piece that has passed through a succession of hands over the course of centuries. The story goes that it was found by an African slave in the Gulf of Panama, with the result that it was presented to King Philip II of Spain who presented it to his bride Queen Mary I of England. In time, La Peregrina returned to the Crown Jewels of Spain, where it remained until the Napoleonic era. From there, it made its way to the Duke of Abercorn, where it remained for a century before passing into the hands of Richard Burton and then Elizabeth Taylor. The last time that La Peregrina was put up for auction, it managed to fetch a price of $11.8 million.
1. Cleopatra's Pearl - $28.5 Million
Late Ptolemaic Egypt was very rich. However, late Ptolemaic Egypt was also very weak, as shown by how the late Roman Republic could make and unmake its kings. As such, it was no wonder that the famous Cleopatra VII became involved in Roman politics in an effort to cement her control over her country, particularly since the combination of those two traits made Egypt a constant temptation for ambitious Roman politicians. Supposedly, she once dissolved a huge pearl in a goblet of wine before drinking it down as a way of showing Egypt's wealth. The Roman naturalist and natural philosopher Pliny estimated that the pearl was worth 60 million sesterces, which works out to about $28.5 million in the present time.
Written by Dana Hanson
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