Discovered in Panama in the 1500s by an African slave diving off Panama’s Pearl Islands, La Peregrina is the most famous pearl in the world.
Soon after its discovery, the white pear-shaped pearl was taken to Spain where it became part of the crown jewel collection. Around 1554, Phillip II of Spain gave the pearl to Queen Mary I of England as an engagement present. When Bloody Mary died in 1558, it was returned to Spain and worn by a succession of Spanish queens over the next 250 years.
In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Spain and took the pearl with him back to France. Years later, Napoleon III, who was exiled in England and facing financial difficulties, sold La Peregina to the Marquis of Abercorn.
In 1969, Welsh actor Richard Burton spent $37,000 at a Sotheby’s auction to buy La Peregrina from the Duke of Abercrombie as a gift for his wife Elizabeth Taylor.
In December 2011, the pearl sold for a record price of more than $11 million (£7.1m). La Peregrina was sold as part of Elizabeth Taylor’s collection, which was being auctioned at Christie’s in New York. It was sold mounted on the diamond Cartier necklace. Its value had been estimated at $3 million, but the bidding vastly exceeded the estimate and reached $10.5 million – increasing to more than $11 million once the various fees were factored in.