La Pelegrina Pearl

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Origin of name

The name "La Pelegrina" appears to have been used to refer to at least two different natural pearls of different shapes, sizes, origin and history. One pearl believed to be of South American origin with a history of over 350 years, having passed through royal and aristocratic families of Spain, France, possibly India, and finally Russia, is a pear-shaped pearl with a weight of 133.16 grains. Another pearl which originated in the early 19th century with a spherical shape and a lesser weight of 111.5 grains, had also been given the name "La Pelegrina."


Apart from the confusion caused by the existence of two different pearls bearing the same name, the existence of an entirely different pearl weighing 203.84 grains and having the name - "La Peregrina" - which phonetically resembles the former name, had led to considerable confusion among gem historians. Please click here for separate webpage devoted to the "La Peregrina Pearl." The Spanish word "La Peregrina" means "the Pilgrim or Wanderer." The word "La Pelegrina" had been translated by gem historians as "the Incomparable" but it appears that there is no such word in the Spanish Language which has this meaning. It appears that the word "La Pelegrina" had been deliberately created to rhyme with the word "La Peregrina," still having the meaning "the Pilgrim or Wanderer," yet showing a difference from the original name, as it refers to an entirely different pearl weighing almost 70 grains less than the original "La Peregrina Pearl.


Princess Zinaida Yusupov wearing the La Pelegrina Pearl as a head ornament surmounted by the La Regente

Princess Zinaida Yusupov wearing the La Pelegrina Pearl as a head ornament surmounted by the La Regente


Characteristics of the "La Pelegrina Pearl"

The older "La Pelegrina Pearl" with a history of over 350 years is a natural pear-shaped white pearl, with high quality silvery luster and a weight of 133.16 grains. The pearl undoubtedly has all the desirable characteristics under GIA's seven pearl value factors :- size, shape, color, luster, surface quality, nacre quality, and matching.


Size of the pearl

The size of the pearl in terms of its weight is extraordinary, a massive 133.16 grains (33.29 carats). The size in terms of its dimensions is not known, but undoubtedly its diameter exceeds 8 mm, thus placing it under the category of very large pearls. The classification of pearls according to diameter is as follows :-

1) Very small - < 3mm in diameter

2) Small - 3 to 5 mm in diameter

3) Medium - 5 to 6 mm

5) Large - 7 to 8 mm

6) Very Large - > 8 mm

The size of the pearl has a major bearing on its price. The "La Pelegrina Pearl" was sold in 1987 at a Christie's auction in Geneva, for $463,800.


Shape of the pearl

The shape of the pearl also plays an important role in determining its value. Three categories of shapes are recognized in pearls. 1) Perfectly spherical or round shape 2) Symmetrical shapes such as pear or drop-shape, oval or egg-shape, button-shape 3) Baroque shape or irregular shape. The most prized of all shapes are the perfectly spherical shapes. Pear or drop-shaped pearls that are ideal for pendants and earrings are the next most valued of all shapes.


Color of the pearl

Pearls occur in a wide range of colors varying from the lighter shades to the darker shades of color. Light colored pearls are found in shades of white, pink, silver, gold and blue, whereas dark colored pearls occur as green, purple, grey and black. Some shades of pearls are very rare and popular, and are highly valued, such as silvery white, rosy white and pale gold. In the United States the most prized color is rose pink. Pale or yellowish-pink are less valuable than the deep rose pinks. White is the next in popularity and price, followed by the yellowish or creamy white colors. The best pearls have an even color with no dark spots or patchy zonation of color, and a good silvery or light pink orient. The La Pelegrina Pearl has the very rare and valuable silvery white color.


Luster of pearl and nacre quality

Luster of a pearl is the most important indication of a pearl's quality. Luster of a pearl known as iridescence, refers to the glowing appearance of its surface. A pearl with a brilliant shiny surface showing reflections like a mirror, is said to have a high luster, and a pearl that has a dull milky or chalky appearance is said to have a poor luster. The luster of a pearl is determined by the quality of its nacre. The thickness, the translucence and the arrangement of overlapping layers in the nacre affect its quality. A nacre thickness of 0.5 mm or more is needed for good luster. If the nacre is too thin or opaque, the appearance of the pearl will be milky or chalky. Conditions that affect the quality of nacre of a pearl include, the environment in which the pearl grows, the health of the mollusk, the length of time spent in the mollusk, the type of mollusk in which the pearl grows and other environmental factors such as pollution. The "La Pelegrina Pearl" undoubtedly has a thick layer of high quality nacre, which has preserved its silvery white luster for more than 350 years.


surface quality of pearl

Pearls that have a good surface quality, with uniform color and fewer dark spots have a  higher value than pearls having many dark spots or blemishes on its surface. The "La Pelegrina Pearl" has an unblemished surface quality free of any dark spots, and is without any doubt a pearl of extraordinary quality.


History of the La Pelegrina Pearl

Source of the pearl

The La Pelegrina Pearl was part of the Spanish Crown Jewelry and gifted by King Philip IV to his daughter Maria Therese on the occasion of her marriage to King Louis XIV of France in 1660. It is not known exactly when the pearl entered the Crown Jewels of Spain, but it could be anytime between the mid-16th century when pearls were first discovered in the Spanish colonies of the New World and the mid-17th century. Thus the source of the pearl could be any one of the major pearl producing areas of the New World during that period, such as the coastal areas of the Pearl Islands in the Gulf of Panama, the coastal areas of Venezuela and the coastal areas of the Caribbean islands. The Venezuelan and Panama coasts were exploited extensively by the Spanish and became the major source of pearls in the world during this period. The exploitation was so thorough and extensive that within a short period of about a century and a half, the pearl-bearing oysters in these regions almost became extinct and the areas were abandoned towards the end of the 17th century. The traditional Asian pearl producing regions, the hub of the world's pearl markets for over 4,000 years,  such as the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar in Sri Lanka, thus regained their former pre-eminence in the trade, and continued to maintain this position until the 1920s, when Japan came into prominence in the international pearl trade, after mastering the technique of successfully culturing pearls.


Early History of the Pearl

The pearl first came into prominence in the year 1660, when King Philip IV of Spain gifted it to his daughter Maria Therese, on the occasion of her marriage to King Louis XIV of France in the year 1660.


King Philip IV and the decline of Spain as a world power

King Philip IV was the king of Spain between 1621 and 1665, at a time Spain was on the decline as a great world power. Philip IV's Chief Minister for the first 22 years of his reign, Olivares, took Spain into the Thirty Years' War with an ambitious attempt to restore Spanish hegemony in Europe, in association with the Habsburg dynasty of Austria. After some initial successes against the Dutch in 1624 and the Swedes in 1634, France declared war against the Spain in 1635. This was followed by the separatist rebellions of Catalonia and Portugal, that led to the independence of Portugal in 1640. The Spanish forces were defeated at the Battle of Rocroi, northeastern France in 1643, by the French forces led by the Great Conde. This was followed by popular revolutions in Naples and Sicily in 1647, which was put down in 1648. The Thirty Year's War finally ended in 1648 when the contending powers finally met in the German province of Westphalia to end the bloodshed. The main outcome of the  Treaty of Westphalia was a radical change in the balance of power of Europe. Spain had lost Netherlands, and the United Netherlands was recognized as an independent republic. The member states of the Holy Roman Empire were granted full sovereignty, and the ancient and long held notion of a Roman Catholic Empire of Europe, headed spiritually by a Pope and temporally by an emperor, was permanently abandoned. Spain also lost its dominant position in western Europe, to its rival France, which now became the chief western power.

King Philip IV of Spain

King Philip IV of Spain


Treaty of Pyrenees between Spain and France

However the end of the Thirty Years' War did not mean an end to the war between Spain and France. The confrontation between the two countries continued, with England joining France. England captured Jamaica from the Spanish, and also contributed to the defeat of Spain in the Battle of the Dunes, on the northern coast of France in 1658. The defeat of Spain in this battle led to the conclusion of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, in which both sides ceded territory to one another, and the Great Conde who had been fighting with the Spanish was pardoned. However, one of the most important provisions of the treaty, was the marriage to be contracted between King Louis XIV of France and Infanta Maria Teresa de Austria, the daughter of King Philip IV of Spain.


The marriage between Louis XIV and Maria Therese under the Treaty of Pyrenees. Both the La Pelegrina and the La Peregrina pearls feature at this marriage.

The marriage between King Louis XIV and Maria Therese took place in 1660. King Philip IV presented his daughter with the 133.16 grains La Pelegrina Pearl on the occasion of this wedding. He also attended ceremonies associated with the wedding at King Louis XIV's court in France, wearing another famous pearl from the Spanish Crown Jewels, as a hat ornament. This pearl was none other than the 223.8 grains pear-shaped white pearl, the La Peregrina Pearl. which had a more ancient provenance than the La Pelegrina Pearl. The peace of the Pyrenees and the Spanish marriage, established King Louis XIV as the most powerful monarch in Europe.

King Louis XIV of France

King Louis XIV of France


Marie-Therese's 23-year reign as the Queen of France

At the time of Marie-Therese's marriage to Louis XIV, she renounced her claim to succession to the Spanish throne in return for a large dowry, which was not paid at the time of the marriage. Both Marie Therese and Louis XIV were born in September 1638, and Marie Louise was just five days younger to Louis XIV. At the time of their marriage in June 1660, both of them were just 22 years old, but unfortunately, Marie-Therese had not been able to hold Louis' undivided affection for more than an year. An year after their marriage Louis took the first of a succession of royal mistresses, Mme de La Valliere, who was succeeded in 1667 by the Marquis de Montespan, the lady-in-waiting to Marie-Therese. The Queen suffered the infidelities of her husband in silence, but strange enough during the 23 years of her marriage to Louis, she bore him five children, of whom only one, the dauphin Louis, survived up to maturity. Louis also had seven illegitimate children through his mistress Mme de Montespan, who fell out of favour in 1680, when the Affair of the Poisons came to light. Louis then took her third mistress Mme de Maintenon. Marie-Therese died in 1683, and the fate of the "La Pelegrina Pearl" after her death and until it reappeared again in St. Petersburg in 1826,  is uncertain.

Marie Therese with her eldest son-Louis Dauphin

Marie Therese with her eldest son-Louis Dauphin


The fate of the La Pelegrina Pearl after Marie Therese ?

The pearl became part of the crown jewels of France, and was lost during the upheavals  of the French revolution

The fate of the La Pelegrina Pearl after the death of Marie-Therese and until its appearance in St. Petersburg in 1826 is only a matter of conjecture. According to one possibility, Marie-Therese would have bequeathed the La Pelegrina Pearl to her only surviving son Le Grand Dauphin, Louis de France (1661-1711), who married Marie-Anne of Bavaria in 1680, and by whom he had three sons, Louis duc de Bourgogne (1682-1712), Philippe, duc de Anjou (1683-1746), and Charles duc de Berry (1686-1714).

When dauphin Louis died in 1711, the pearl would have been inherited by his eldest son, Louis, duc de Bourgogne, who also died in 1712, perhaps leaving it to his son, who subsequently succeeded Louis XIV in 1715, as Louis XV. The pearl thus became a crown jewel of France, and was perhaps in turn inherited by Louis XVI, the last of the Bourbon monarchs executed during the French revolution. During the upheavals of the French Revolution on September 17th, 1792, six men broke into the Garde Meuble, the public treasury that housed the crown jewels, and stole some important pieces of jewels that included the Sancy diamond, the Tavernier Blue diamond, the Regent diamond etc. Perhaps the haul might have included the La Pelegrina Pearl too, which was never recovered like the Tavernier blue diamond, and later re-appeared after the expiry of 20 years, the statute of limitations for the crime. The Tavernier Blue re-appeared in London in September 1812, exactly 20 years after the theft. The La Pelegrina on the other hand appeared in St. Petersburg Russia, in 1826, much after the period prescribed in the statute of limitations, and was purchased by the fabulously wealthy Russian Princess Tatiana Youssoupov (Yusupov) of the Yusupov aristocratic family of Russia.


The pearl survived the French revolution and was sold in the public auctions of 1887 ?

Had the pearl been part of the French Crown Jewels, and yet fortunate enough to escape the upheavals of the French revolution including the theft at the Garde Meuble in 1792, it would have undoubtedly featured in the public auctions of the French Crown Jewels, held in May 1887, on a decision made by the Parliament of the 3rd Republic. But, since the pearl reappeared in 1826 in Russia, it was highly unlikely that this would have been the case. In any case there is no document to confirm that this pearl ever existed among the French Crown Jewels.


The pearl re-entered the Spanish Crown Jewels through Philip V, King of Spain ?

Another possibility would have been that the pearl was  inherited by Philippe, duc de Anjou (1683-1746), the second son of the Le Grand Dauphin, who subsequently became the King of Spain, as Philip V, and reigned from 1700 to 1746. If this was the case the La Pelegrina Pearl would have re-entered the Spanish Crown Jewels during this period, and later found its way to St. Petersburg, Russia. However, there is no documentary evidence to show that the La Pelegrina ever re-entered the Spanish Crown Jewels.


Zozima Pearl, an alternative name for La Pelegrina Pearl ?

It is also said that the pearl during its disappearance between 1683 and 1826, also traveled to India, where perhaps it was owned by one of the Maharajah's of India, before it finally re-appeared in St. Petersburg, and was purchased by Princess Tatiana on the recommendation of the Czar's jeweler Zozima. Hence the La Pelegrina Pearl is also known as the "Zozima Pearl."


Modern History of the La Pelegrina Pearl

The La Pelegrina Pearl is purchased by Princess Tatiana Yusupov in 1826

Princess Tatiana Vasillieva (1769-1841) married Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov in 1793. Prince Yusupov who was a Senator, Minister of State Properties and Director of Imperial Theatres was also a patron of the arts and a keen traveler who spoke five languages. He served under three sovereigns, including Catherine the Great, Paul I and Alexander I, as a private counselor and diplomat. In his travels through Europe, he is reported to have met the sovereigns of France, Prussia and Austria. He had also met Napoleon I on several occasions. Prince Nikolai B. Yusupov and Princess Tatiana Yusupov lived in the luxurious palace of Arkhangelskoye in Moscow. Both the Prince and Princess had a passionate taste for jewelry and acquired a collection that became famous. She is reputed to have purchased the 40-carat, round brilliant-cut Polar Star diamond, and also several parures originating from the French Crown and the Queen of Naples. In 1826, she also purchased the La Pelegrina Pearl, which once belonged to King Philip IV of Spain.


The La Pelegrina Pearl is inherited by Princess Zinaida Nikolaievna Yusupova           

After the death of Princess Tatiana Yusupov in 1841, the La Pelegrina Pearl was inherited by Prince Boris Nikolaievich Yusupov (1794-1849) and his wife Zinaida Ivanova Narishkina (1810-1893). Prince Boris moved his residence to the Moika Palace in St. Petersburg which came to be known as the Yusupov Palace. After his death in 1849, Prince Boris was succeeded by his only son Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov (1827-1891), who also inherited the pearl. Prince Nikolai married Countess Tatiana Alexandrovna (1828-1875). The prince who was the Marshal of the Imperial Courts, was also a patron of the arts, and a collector and connoisseur of Jewels and Jewelry. He is reputed to have acquired a large collection of jewelry, that included the famous 35.27-carat grayish-blue diamond, the Sultan of Morocco. During his travels to Europe, he purchased a large number of paintings and other works of art, and also a collection of violins, that later adorned the Yusupov palace. When Prince Nikolai Yusupov died in 1891, he was succeeded by his daughter Zinaida, who was considered a legendary beauty. Princess Zinaida Nikolaievna Yusupova (1861-1939) married Count Felix Felixovich Sumarokov (1856-1928), and also inherited the La Pelegrina Pearl. Count Felix was also granted permission by Czar Alexander III, to carry the title of Prince Yusupov. Prince Felix was appointed Governor General of Moscow in 1914. The picture above shows Princess Zinaida N. Yusupov wearing the pearl as a head ornament surmounted by another historic pearl the La Regente (La Perle Napoleon). She sometimes wore the La Pelegrina Pearl as a single ear pendant.

Princess Zinaida Yusupov

Princess Zinaida Yusupov

Prince Felix Yusupov carries the La Pelegrina Pearl to Paris at the time of the Bolshevik revolution

Princess Zinaida N. Yusupova's son, Prince Felix Yusupov II married Irina, a granddaughter of Czar Alexander III. Prince Felix Yusupov became notorious for his part in the murder of Rasputin, the mad monk, just before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. He was found guilty and exiled to the Crimea, but returned to St. Petersburg in 1917, to find the city in a massive state of disorder after the February uprisings. Prince Felix lost no time in collecting some of his most precious belongings, that included some valuable paintings, a collection of expensive pearl jewelry that included the La Pelegrina Pearl, the Polar Star diamond, the Sultan of Morocco diamond, the Ram's Head diamond, and a pair of diamond ear-pendants that belonged to Marie Antoinette. He left Russia for good in August 1917 and settled down in Paris.


Prince Felix Yusupov and wife Irina Alexandrovna


Prince Felix Yusupov sells the La Pelegrina Pearl to Jean Lombard in 1953

Prince Felix Yusupov sold most of the jewelry he brought from Russia to Cartier's in Paris. He disposed of the "Sultan of Morocco" diamond and the "Polar Star" diamond between the years 1922 and 1925. Cartier also purchased most of the pearl jewelry belonging to the prince in 1934, except the La Pelegrina Pearl, which the prince could not bear to part with, because of its sentimental value. It was only in the year 1953, that Prince Felix Yusupov finally decided to sell the La Pelegrina Pearl. He sold the celebrated pearl to Jean Lombard, the Geneva-based jeweler with close connections to the Russian nobility living in exile in Europe.


Lombard sells the La Pelegrina Pearl to an anonymous  collector in Europe

Jean Lombard was the well known Geneva-based jeweler who established  his business in 1936. Soon after World War II, Jean Lombard met Carl Theodor Faberge, the grandson of Peter Carl Faberge, the renowned Russian jewelry designer. They went into partnership during the next twenty years creating some exceptional pieces of jewelry, inspired by the Renaissance. He also established close connections with the Russian nobility, living in exile in Europe, including Prince Felix Yusupov. In the year 1953 he purchased the famous La Pelegrina Pearl from Prince Felix Yusupov, who reluctantly sold the pearl to him. Lombard had many European collectors as his clients, and he was also jeweler to Her Majesty Queen Frederica of Greece, and his majesty King Farouk of Egypt. Jean Lombard sold the La Pelegrina Pearl to one of his clients, an anonymous collector from Europe.


The La Pelegrina Pearl reappears at a Christie's auction in Geneva in 1989

The anonymous owner of the La Pelegrina Pearl put it up for auction at Christie's in Geneva in 1989. According to Christie's, the auction was held in Geneva on May 14th, 1989, and the La Pelegrina Pearl was lot 556 in this auction, described as a pear-shaped pearl pendant. The pear-shaped pearl of 133.16 grains was incorporated in the pearl and diamond pendant, with a rose-cut diamond foliate cap, and circular-cut diamond surmount. According to Christie's catalogue published for the auction, Lord Twining in "A History of the Crown Jewels of Europe" dates the pearl back to the 17th century when it was apparently part of the Spanish Crown Jewels. The Pearl was given as a gift by Philip IV to his daughter Maria-Therese  on the occasion of her marriage to Louis XIV of France. The La Pelegrina Pearl was sold to an anonymous buyer during this auction for a record sum of $463,800.

The catalogue goes on to say further that the "Pelegrina" is often confused with the "Peregrina" pearl which had been handed down through the Spanish Royal family until Joseph Bonaparte took it out of the country in 1813. Via Hortense de Beauharnais it came into possession of Prince Louis Napoleon, who sold it to the Marquess of Abercorn. In 1969 the Peregrina Pearl was purchased by Richard Burton as a Valentine's gift for his beloved wife Elizabeth Taylor at a Sotheby's auction in London.


The second La Pelegrina Pearl

A second pearl which originated in the early 20th century weighing 111.5 grains, with a perfectly spherical shape and a rare silvery white color was also given the name "La Pelegrina." The origin of this pearl which also belonged to the Spanish Crown Jewels is not exactly known. It appears that King Alfonso XIII, the King of Spain from 1902-1931, gave the pearl set in a brooch to his Queen Victoria Eugenie, as a  gift on the occasion of their wedding in 1906.  The Pearl appears to have remained as part of the Spanish Crown Jewels in spite of the downfall of the monarchy in 1931, and its subsequent restoration as a constitutional monarchy in 1978. Around the time the original La Pelegrina was auctioned in 1989, by Christie's of Geneva, the Duke of Alba held a press conference and claimed that the real "La Pelegrina" was in the hands of the Spanish Royal Family, but the claim could not be substantiated. The whereabouts of the second La Pelegrina Pearl today is not known.

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Back to Famous Pearls  

Related -

1) Sultan of Morocco Diamond

2) Polar Star Diamond

3) La Peregrina Pearl

4) Arco Valley Pearl

5) The Pearl of Allah


References - About the Pelegrina Pearl   
2.Legendary Pearls, legendary tales -   
3.Famous Pearls -
4.Encyclopedia Britannica -2006  
5.The Unofficial Spanish Royal Family Pages, Spain's Enigmatic Royal Jewels- 


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