La Peregrina (also known as the Wanderer or the Pilgrim) is the most famous pearl in the world. Measuring in at more than 55 carats, it is an exquisite pear-shaped pearl that is renowned for its perfect symmetry.
It was reported that Queen Mary I of England wore the pearl in almost all her portraits.
The pearl most recently sold in 2011 at a Christie’s auction for $11.8 million after having once graced the neck of the legendary Hollywood actress, Elizabeth Taylor.
The pearl has a history of 500 years and it is notorious for being cursed. Owners of the pearl have suffered through bad marriages and tempestuous times in history.
Here is a brief rundown of the dark history of La Peregrina.
La Peregrina and Bloody Mary
La Peregrina was discovered in the Gulf of Panama in the 16th century. The story goes that it was discovered by a slave in Panama in 1513. When the pearl was found, the slave owners were so astounded by its beauty that they felt appreciative enough to free the slave.
There is no proof to back up this story about the pearl’s discovery. However, what is certain is that the pearl was turned over to Don Pedro de Temez who was the administrator of Panama.
Temez gifted the pearl to the future King Philip II of Spain who in turn presented it as a gift to his bride, Queen Mary I of England in 1554.
Queen Mary was notoriously known as Bloody Mary. She was a staunch Catholic and during her reign, more than 200 Protestants were burned at the stake for refusing to become Catholics.
The marriage between Queen Mary and Philip of Spain was very difficult and unpopular among the public. Moreover, the attraction between Philip and Mary was very one-sided. Mary was very attracted to Philip but Philip who was 10 years younger did not feel the same way.
In one strange instance during the marriage, Mary experienced a ‘phantom pregnancy.” While the nation started celebrating the birth of Mary’s baby, the reality was that there was no baby. Philip eventually left Mary. He had mistresses in both England and Spain but Mary was loyal and continued to love Philip. Just a few years later, Mary would die and Philip would go on to marry twice.
When King Philip II of Spain died, La Peregrina was paired with a famous diamond and made into a brooch. The pearl became a part of the Spanish Crown Jewels.
La Peregrina and Spanish Royalty
La Peregrina remained as a part of the Spanish Crown Jewels for 250 years. It was worn for important events by the queens of Spain.
Queen Margaret of Spain wore the pearl in the early 1600s for a celebration of the peace treaty between England and Spain. After her time, the pearl passed on to Queen Isabel. Isabel was known for having an affair with her gentleman in waiting. Her lover was later murdered.
After Queen Isabel passed away, the pearl was given to Queen Mariana. She also had a difficult life with 3 of her children dying and the remaining 2 children suffering from physical disorders as a result of inbreeding.
After Queen Mariana’s death in 1696, the pearl seems to have disappeared from history until it appeared again in 1813 during the invasion of Spain by Joseph Bonaparte.
Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte became the king of Spain in 1808 and the La Peregrina came into his possession. When he fled from Madrid during his defeat at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, he took the pearl with him and gave it to his nephew, Napoleon III who was in exile in London.
La Peregrina and Elizabeth Taylor
Napoleon III was in financial trouble and sold the pearl to an aristocratic English family, the Duke of Abercorn. During the Duke’s possession, the pearl got lost at least 2 different times once in Windsor Castle and the second time in Buckingham Palace. The pearl was so heavy that it had slipped out of its necklace setting.
In 1969, Richard Burton purchased the pearl from the Duke at an auction at Sotheby’s in London for $37,000. The pearl was meant as a Valentine’s gift for his wife Elizabeth Taylor.
I had just received La Peregrina from New York on a delicate little chain and I was wearing it like a talisman. — Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor loved the pearl and wore it many times. The pearl has even appeared in some of her movies. However, it is believed that the curse of the pearl even affected her own marriage with Richard Burton.
Elizabeth and Richard lived a lavish and extravagant life but they both also had a drinking problem and would fight tumultuously throughout their marriage. They were even given the nickname, “the Battling Burtons.”
Their fights were seen in both public and in private. The fights were so legendary that fans of the couple would even pay to hear them fight. Their fighting involved TVs being broken in hotel rooms and the rooms themselves being trashed. Eventually, it took a toll on the couple.
Elizabeth became addicted to pills while Burton resorted to drinking and affairs. They divorced and then remarried only to divorce again within a span of a few years. Although they both loved each other, they could not be together.
Over 500 years, La Peregrina has been passed on from one owner to another. There have been at least 12 owners of the pearl including 8 Spanish kings, 2 Spanish leaders, an English aristocratic family, and a Hollywood celebrity.
As the last known owner of La Peregrina, the estate of Elizabeth Taylor placed the pearl for auction upon her death. Christies auction house estimated the price of the pearl to be between 2 and 3 million dollars. However, in December 2011, the pearl sold for $11,842,500 to an anonymous bidder.
Despite the curse of the La Peregrina, it will never lose its value.