An Antique Natural Pearl and Diamond Five-Row Necklace

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Origin of Name

The name refers to an antique, late 19th-century, natural pearl and diamond, five-row necklace that appeared at the Christie's Geneva Jewels Sale, held on May 12, 2010, and made a significant impact by registering a price of 147,000 CHF (US$ 132,682) much above the pre-sale estimate of 80,000-100,000 CHF (US$72,195-90,244). The enhanced sale price registered by the lot, a trend followed by most of the pieces incorporating natural pearls, also indicated the recovery of the strong auction market for natural antique pearls, following the recent global economic recession.

 

 

Characteristics of the Natural Pearl and Diamond Five-Row Necklace

The shortest strand in the necklace is an "Opera" based on the modern system of classifying pearl necklaces

The necklace consists of five rows of graduated pearls. The innermost row which is the shortest of the five rows, has a length of 80 cm or 31.5 inches. According to the modern system of classifying pearl necklaces based on the length of the strands, the shortest strand falls within the category of an "Opera" whose range of length varies from 25 to 34 inches. This necessarily means the outermost strands which are longer fall within the category of "Rope," whose range exceeds 35 inches. Thus, the necklace falls partly within  the category of "Opera" and partly within the category of "Rope."

The 5 row antique natural pearl and diamond necklace

The 5 row antique natural pearl and diamond necklace

© Christie's

The total number of pearls in the necklace

The number of pearls in each of the five rows of the necklace are as follows :-

1) Innermost row (shortest row)   -  190 pearls

2) Second row                           -  193 pearls

3) Third row                              -  198 pearls

4) Fourth row                            -  200 pearls

5) Outermost row (longest row)    -  202 pearls

    Total number of pearls            =  983 pearls

Thus, the total number of pearls in the necklace is 983

5 row antique natural pearl and diamond necklace

5 row antique natural pearl and diamond necklace

© Christie's

The range in size and weight of the pearls in the necklace

The 983 pearls in the necklace range in size from 2.9 mm to 7.9 mm. The range in weight of the pearls is not given., but using Kunz & Stevenson's conversion table given in Chapter IV of their book, "The Book of the Pearl" published in 1908, we can determine the approximate range in weight of the pearls. According to this table, given on our webpage "nine-strand natural pearl festoon necklace" a diameter of 2.9 mm is equivalent to 3/4 or 0.75 grain, and a diameter of 7.9 mm is approximately equal to 14 grains. Thus, the approximate range in weight of the pearls in the necklace, 0.75 grains to 14 grains.

Using the range in size of the pearls we can calculate the median size of the pearls and compute an average weight for the necklace.

The median size of the pearls = 2.9 + 7.9/2 = 10.8/2 = 5.4 mm.

A size of 5.4 mm is equivalent to 4.5 grains

Thus, the approximate total weight of the 943 pearls = 4.5 x 943 = 4243.5 grains

= 4243.5/4 carats = 1061 carats

= 1061/5 grams =  212 grams (approx).

Thus, an approximate estimation of the weight of the necklace is around 212 grams.

 

The clasp of the necklace

Each of the five strands in the necklace is attached separately to the clasp behind, which is oval-shaped and set with three spherical pearls in a vertical line, in the center, and surrounded by a single-row of 20 old-cut diamonds. The central pearl in the vertical line appears to be  surrounded by 8 circular-cut smaller diamonds. The metal used on the clasp is not known, but most probably either yellow gold or silver. The use of platinum in jewelry became popular during and after the Edwardian period (1901-1920), and white gold was introduced during the Art Deco period in the 1920s.

A close up of the clasp of the 5 row antique natural pearl and diamond necklace

A close up of the clasp of the 5 row antique natural pearl and diamond necklace

© Christie's

Characteristics of the pearls in the necklace

The shape of the pearls

The shape of the pearls in the necklace appear to be perfectly spherical in the photograph. However, close examination of the zoomed image of the necklace show that there are also near-spherical, button-shaped, oval and somewhat baroque shaped pearls among them. This is to be expected, as in natural pearls perfectly spherical pearls are an extreme rarity, and putting together a necklace of not just one strand, but five different strands is a near impossibility.

 

Color and overtone color of the pearls

The color of the pearls appear to be white, with a slightly yellowish overtone in a zoomed image. This is characteristic of oriental pearls originating from the Persian Gulf. White, which is the body color of the pearls, is caused by the absence of any colored pigments, usually associated with the conchiolin component of nacre. The absence of any colored pigments in the conchiolin, allows the white color of aragonite to show through. Hence, the white color of the pearls, is actually the white color of aragonite, a crystalline form of calcium carbonate.

 

Luster and orient of the pearls

The luster and orient of the pearls, optical properties dependant on the reflection and refraction of light respectively, are exceptional, in keeping with the saltwater origin of the pearls. Color, overtone, luster and orient are all dependant on the thickness of nacre, which is optimum for natural pearls being made entirely of nacre. The interesting fact about this necklace, is that the pearls of which it is composed are of late 19th-century origin, and the color, overtone, luster and orient of the pearls are still maintained at an optimum level, despite the fact that the pearls are between 100-150 years old.

 

The surface quality of the pearls

The surface quality of the pearls in the necklace are also exceptional, with most of the pearls apparently blemish-free or with minor blemishes.

 

History of the Natural Pearl and Diamond Five-Row Necklace

The source of the pearls

The pearls are natural saltwater pearls probably originating from the oyster species Pinctada radiata

Characteristics of the pearls such as their range in size, color, overtones etc. can give an indication of the oyster species from which the pearls originated, and from the geographic range of the species, we can predict the possible source of the pearl. The variety of shapes of the pearls, such as spherical, near-spherical, button, oval, baroque etc. indicate that the pearls are natural and not cultured. The extraordinary luster and orient of the pearls, indicate that the pearls are of saltwater origin and not freshwater pearls. The range in size of the pearls, 2.9 mm to 7.9 mm falls within the range in size of pearls produced by the saltwater oyster Pinctada radiata, which apart from seed pearls less than 2 mm in size and 0.25 grains in weight, also produces pearls of medium size varying in size from around 3 mm to 8 mm. Pearls larger than 8 mm in size are also produced by Pinctada radiata, but are extremely rare. Thus, from the range in size of the pearls, we can assume that the pearls originated in the saltwater oyster species Pinctada radiata.

 

The geographic range of Pinctada radiata

The natural home of Pinctada radiata is the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar. The Atlantic pearl oyster, Pinctada imbricata, found in the waters off Venezuela, is closely related to Pinctada radiata. Likewise, the species of pearl oyster found in the waters off the Leizhou Peninsula and northern Hainan Island in China, Pinctada fucata (Akoya pearl oyster) is also closely related to Pinctada radiata. Another pearl oyster species found off the coast of Japan and China is known as Pinctada martensii (Akoya-gai pearl oyster), and is closely related to Pinctada radiata. The four species of Genus Pinctada, radiata/imbricata/fucata/martensii are today considered as a species complex, due to their close morphological characteristics and similar genetic profile. Pinctada radiata is thus considered as a cosmopolitan species with a global distribution, with specific locally adapted traits.

 

The possible sources of the pearls are the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar

Given the period of origin of the necklace as the late 19th-century, and the possible species from which the pearls originated as Pinctada radiata, we can conclude that the most probable source of the pearls is the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Mannar, where a pearl fishery based on Pinctada radiata, persisted until the early 20th-century. In the Persian Gulf the natural pearl industry persisted into the 1930s and 1940s, until the final death blow was given by Mikimoto after the popularization of cultured pearls. In the Gulf of Mannar in Sri Lanka, the natural pearl industry collapsed in 1906, following over exploitation and depletion of oyster resources. Thus, the pearls in the necklace could have come either from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar, the most ancient sources of pearls in the world. The Atlantic pearl oyster of Venezuela, that produced pearls of the same range in size and yellowish-white hue, could not have been a source, as the oyster beds of Venezuela, were abandoned in the mid-17th century after intensive exploitation by the Spanish for over 150 years, since their discovery in 1498, by Christopher Columbus during his third voyage. Another ancient source of oriental pearls, the waters off Leizhou Peninsula and northern Hainan Island in China, which was exploited since the 1st-century B.C. remained active until the 17th-century A.D. when the resources were depleted.

 

Based on the slightly yellowish overtone color, the most probable source of the pearls in the necklace is the Persian Gulf

Out of the two possible sources of the pearls, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar, we can still eliminate one, by considering the overtone colors of the pearls. White, yellow and gold are common body colors of these pearls, with overtone colors of silver, pink, and cream. Ceylon pearls from the Gulf of Mannar, were renowned for their white color, with silver overtones - silvery-white pearls. Pearls with yellowish hue were rare among Ceylon pearls. On the other hand, Persian Gulf pearls from the waters of Bahrain and other Gulf countries also had the desirable silvery-white colors, but pearls of yellowish hue, in which a faint yellow color appears as an overtone on a white body color, are more common. Since, the pearls in this necklace appear to have the slightly yellowish overtone on a white body color, the most probable source of these pearls is the Persian Gulf.

 

The strong showing of the antique pearl and diamond necklace at the auctions was a clear indication of the recovery of the strong auction market for antique natural pearls

The five-row antique pearl and diamond necklace was allocated Lot No. 138, at the Christie's Geneva Sale 1374, held on May 12, 2010, and was accompanied by report no. 02404, dated January 8, 2010, issued by the Horsham GPL Gem & Pearl Laboratory, certifying that the pearls in the necklace were natural saltwater pearls. A pre-sale estimate of 80,000-100,000 CHF (US$ 72,195-90,244), was placed on the necklace. However, in keeping with the recovery of the strong auction demand for antique natural pearls, which was prevalent prior to the global economic recession, the antique pearl and diamond necklace, with an unknown historic provenance, but believed to be 100-150 years old, sold for an enhanced price of 147,000 CHF (US$ 132,682), which was  US$ 60,487 more than the lower estimate and US$ 42,438 more than the upper estimate. The strong showing of this natural pearl necklace at the auctions, and other pieces of jewelry incorporating natural pearls, was a clear indication of the recovery of the strong auction market for natural pearls, after the recent worldwide economic recession. The enhanced price realized was mainly due to its natural provenance backed by a certificate from a recognized laboratory, as well as its purported age believed to be 100-150 years old. The lack of a historic provenance was a drawback for the sale of this item, which undoubtedly would have registered two or three times more than the price realized, if backed by a clear-cut provenance.   

 

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     Back to Famous Pearls

 

Related :-

1) Four Row Natural Pearl Necklace Sold at Christie's Dubai

2) Nine Strand Natural Pearl Festoon Necklace

 

 

External Links

1) Christie's Sale 1374. Jewels : The Geneva Sale, May 12, 2010. Lot 138, An Antique Pearl And Diamond Necklace. www.christies.com

 

References :-

1) Christie's Sale 1374. Jewels : The Geneva Sale, May 12, 2010. Lot 138, An Antique Pearl And Diamond Necklace. www.christies.com

 2) The Book of the Pearl,  Chapter 4 - Kunz & Stevenson

 

 


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