Pearls: The Queen of Gems

Amy Lin of Saffronart explores the origins of pearls in relation to some of the opulent pearls featured in this month’s Auction of Fine Jewelry & Watches

Centering on an off-round natural pearl, weighing 14.70 carats, to a surround of collet-set natural diamonds
Auction of Fine Jewels & Watches (OCT 30-31, 2012)

New York: From Cleopatra drinking a pearl dissolved in a cocktail to prove Egypt’s worth, to Queen Elizabeth I adorning her garments with pearls as the symbol of feminine virtue, these illustrious jewels have rightfully claimed their title as the “Queen of Gems.” Besides their timeless elegance and seductive luster, the origins of pearls are miracles in themselves.

Designed as five gently graduated strands of 675 natural pearls, weighing approximately 545.12 carats in total, and measuring between approximately 8.49 mm and 3.62 mm, joined by a clasp set to the center with an oval-shaped diamond, weighing approximately 2.78 carats, mounted in gold
Auction of Fine Jewels & Watches (OCT 30-31, 2012)

Saffronart is pleased to feature several important pearls in our upcoming Auction of Fine Jewels & Watches, including a majestic natural pearl and diamond brooch. At 14.70 carats, its impressive size is a rare beauty, with a garland of diamonds that enhances its luminosity. Another important piece is a five strand natural pearl necklace fashioned out of 675 natural pearls, weighing approximately 545.12 carats in total, recalling some of the legendry strings of pearls worn by royals all over the world.

The pearl is the one of the few gems that are cultivated in a living organism. Pearls are usually divided into two broad categories, natural and cultured.  Natural pearls are formed when foreign objects enter a mollusk such as an oyster or mussel. Over time, the organisms coat the objects with a substance called nacre and build up layers until a pearl is formed. Cultured pearls are created in a similar way, except the foreign objects are introduced manually into mollusks in pearl farms. It is much more difficult for pearls to form in nature given different environmental factors; therefore natural pearls are valued much higher than cultured pearls.

Pearls in Oyster Shell
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It is a common misconception to believe that pearls are perfectly round. Pearls, especially large ones, are rarely rounded. They can be off round or baroque, which refers to irregular and unique shapes. In addition, the size of the pearl depends on how long it remains in the organism, the chemistry and the temperature of the water. Large, round pearls are extremely rare, both natural and cultured, often commanding high prices.

The captivating elegance of pearls has attracted both kings and queens around the world, and India is no exception. Surprisingly, the biggest pearl patrons in India were not its queens, but its long succession of Maharajas. One of the most divine pieces in the collection of the royal family of Baroda, for example, was the seven-strand pearl necklace known as the “Baroda Pearl Necklace.”  Documented by distinguished photographers since its creation in the 19th century, it was also published in George Frederick Kunz’s seminal 1908 volume, “The Book of Pearl.” The necklace once again attracted international attention when Maharaja Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad was photographed by Henri Cartier Bresson wearing it.

Here are some more pieces featuring pearls in the upcoming auction. 

To learn more about pearls, browse through our Jewelry Guide. 

Maharajah Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad wearing the Baroda pearl necklace. Maharani Sita Devi making adjustments to the necklace.
Photograph By: Henri Cartier Bresson
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