Tuesday, 21 July 2015

History of Jewellery - Part XVIII

If you're confused about the timeline of the subject matter in these posts, it's probably because I'm a bit muddled as well. Just because I'm determined to finish what I started doesn't mean it will be done in a sensible, orderly fashion, OK? I might go back one day and re-jig these posts, but for now you'll just have to bear with me.

For a while it seemed I couldn't get away from mentioning the Duchess of Windsor if I wanted to talk about jewellery. Now it seems I'm stuck on Liz Taylor - and pearls. 

Susan told us briefly about La Peregrina, a large natural pearl which Richard Burton bought for $37,000 from Sotheby's for Liz Taylor's 37th birthday in 1969. It sold in 2011 for something like $11.6 - 11.8 million.

My thoughts when I began to write about this were to re-tell the story about how Taylor famously 'lost' the pearl and found it in the mouth of one of her dogs. I was thinking she was pretty casual with a pearl that was owned by Philip II (1527-1598) of Spain. His wife, Queen Mary (1516-1558) of England, was painted wearing it, as was Margaret of Austria (1584-1611) Queen of Spain.  And of course it passed through the hands of the Bonaparte's of France.

We'll make no unkind comparisons between Liz and Mary, OK?

My other thought at the time was that Susan told us no one knows who bought the pearl from Christie's (well, I suppose they do, but it doesn't seem to be in the public domain). I was thinking that there are so many fabulous treasures that disappear into private collections and are never seen again. We need to all support our museums to enable the public access to such wonders. I think that's all I wrote on the subject.

However, upon this writing, I've come up with some other observations besides that Taylor's dog is lucky to have survived his little escapade. Last night we watched a BBC programme that had to do with establishing the provenance of a painting belonging to a certain English church and supposed to have been given by a particular aristocratic family in the area. Bill and I were taken with the way that so much likelihood, supposition and expert opinion were the basis of the given 'provenance', which is defined as the history of ownership used to help establish authenticity.

When I came to re-write about La Peregrina (which means the Pilgrim, or the Wanderer), several things occurred to me:

Cartier's listing gives the provenance of the pearl as:
Spanish Kings:
Philip II, (1582-1598)
Philip III, (1598-1621)
Philip IV, (1621-1665)
Charles II, (1665-1700)
Philip V (1700-1746)
Fernando VI (1746-1759)
Charles III (1759-1778)
Carlos IV (1778-1808)

Joseph Bonaparte, of France (1808-circa 1844)
Prince Louis Napoleon, of France (circa 1844-circa 1848)
Duke and Duchess of Abercorn (circa 1848-1914)
Elizabeth Taylor (1969-2011)

I can't help but wonder who owned the pearl between 1914 and 1969? I see from reading Wikipedia that there is another pearl, called the Pearl of Kuwait (with a different weight) that claims to be that worn by Bloody Mary, etc. Establishing provenance and keeping it with the right article must be a pretty complicated business.

I started to be really shocked that something could be worth over 50 times its previous value (if $37,000 in 1969 is $224,440 in 2011) in just 42 years because Elizabeth Taylor owned it. Then I remembered all those rubies and other pearls in the necklace, La Peregrina didn't just hang on a leather strap...not to mention that she designed it and it was by Cartier and we don't know how much they paid for the Cartier necklace. Still...

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