In the mid-1500s, an African slave working in the Gulf of Panama found the largest, most lustrous pearl ever discovered. The administrator of the Spanish colony in Panama took the pearl but rewarded the slave with freedom. The pearl was given to Philip II of Spain, who gave it to his fiancé Mary Tudor of England. Mary wore the pearl as beaded jewelry, in a brooch. We still have a painting of her looking stern and royal, but well decked out in her gowns and beaded jewelry. Mary died in 1558, and the pearl went back to Spain. It was a favorite beaded jewelry piece for the Spanish queen consorts for about 250 years. We see it in paintings of Elisabeth of France and Mariana of Austria, the two queens of Philip IV.



La Peregrina in its present beaded jewelry setting, with diamonds and rubies backing it up.

In 1808, Joseph Bonaparte—Napoleon’s big brother—became king of Spain. After about five years he was forced to flee the country, but not without taking some expensive beaded jewelry and one rare pearl from the crown jewels! It was around this time that someone noticed the pearl had been passed around quite a bit. It earned the name “La Peregrina,” which means “The Pilgrim,” or “The Wanderer.”

And the Pilgrim’s journey continued! From Joseph it went to Louis-Napoleon (his nephew), who sold it to James Hamilton (Duke of Abercorn). The Hamiltons held onto it until 1969 when they auctioned it through Sotheby’s, and Richard Burton bought it for Elizabeth Taylor. We still have many photos of Taylor wearing the pearl as a beaded jewelry pendant, looking like royalty.

La Peregrina has a free spirit. It even liked to disappear from its owners from time to time. The Hamiltons lost the pearl twice when it fell out of its beaded jewelry setting—once in Windsor Castle, and again in Buckingham Palace. It fell out of its setting around Elizabeth Taylor’s neck too. She nearly had a heart attack until she found one of her puppies playing with it under her bed.

I’ve heard it said that gems have no owners, only temporary keepers they choose to share their energy with for a while. La Peregrina is a perfect example of such a wandering stone.

Elizabeth Taylor in the famous La Peregrina necklace.

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