Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Pearls - Part VIII

We're still in the 1920s, which brought us the Little Black Dress with Cultured Pearls. Before this there were only natural pearls and those were very rare. Our lecturer explained that cultured pearls are the same, with the same surface or nacre as natural pearls, they are just farmed rather than accidental. The farming process involves warm water and oscillation, presumably to increase the irritation experienced by the oyster and encourage the excretion of the substance that forms the pearl. She used the name Mikimoto, but according to Wikipedia even though he had a patent, he did not discover this process. You can read about that for yourself here. As usual, I found something to distract me in the story about the man who is credited with figuring this out first.

A story she told us that I have been able to verify was about the Cartier Building in New York City. Apparently the building was owned by a 61 year old man named Morton Freeman Plant who had a 31 year old 2nd wife. Divorcee Mae 'Maisie' Caldwell Manwaring (who went on to have two further husbands) liked Cartier jewellery. Pierre Cartier was looking for a new store and since the Plants were concerned about the commercialisation of their area, they sold their home to Cartier - for $100 and a double strand of natural pearls, valued at $1 million in 1917.  Development of cultured pearls greatly reduced the value of natural pearls.

This is from Wikipedia, but I found it originally on this fabulous blog that has a million incredible stories:
  Daytonian in Manhattan 

According to Two Nerdy History Girls, another blog I already know and love as well (which tells me this stuff is right up my alley!), that $1 million would be worth about $16 million today. They also managed to find a photo of Mae Caldwell Manwaring, and presumably of these pearls.

Just at a glance, a 2 bedroom 1550 square foot 'coop' - I'm guessing that might be an apartment - maybe three blocks away from Cartier in New York City (though I'm not familiar with the geography, but bear with me) is on sale as I write for $5,975,000 - nearly $6 million. Maisie died in 1957 and the next year her million dollar ($16 million) necklace was so devalued that it auctioned for only $150,000...which in today's dollars might be worth about $1,276,000. The Nerdy Girls obviously used a different calculator than I found, because mine says it should have been worth $20 million.

Whatever the details, Cartier made a brilliant deal, don't you think?

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