Hope Pearl

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Origin of name

The Hope Pearl, at one time believed to be the largest saltwater pearl in the world having a weight of 1,800 grains, gets its name from Henry Philip Hope, one of the three sons of John Hope (1737-1784), who together with his father established a thriving banking business based in London and Amsterdam. The family that was based in Amsterdam relocated to London in 1795, in the immediate aftermath of the upheavals of the French revolution. While John Hope's brother Henry Hope, managed the family banking business after his death, the eldest son Henry Thomas Hope pursued his love of the arts inherited from his parents and grandfather, devoting his entire life to the study of arts, architecture and sculpture of not only Europe, but also Asian and African countries. Following an extensive tour of the Ottoman Empire after 1795, Thomas Hope built up an enormous collection of paintings, sculptures, antique objects and books. Besides being a notable collector of arts, he also became a patron of artists and craftsmen, and eventually turned out to be a philosopher, a scholar of world civilizations, and a notable author. His publication of the book "Anastasius" in 1819, became an instant success and received worldwide acclaim, helping to lift the curtain of ignorance that had generated enmity against the east, particularly against Islam and the Islamic way of life.


Henry Thomas Hope in Turkish costume

Henry Thomas Hope in Turkish costume

©Pera Museum, Istanbul Turkey

Henry Thomas Hope's brother, Henry Philip Hope was also a patron of the arts, besides being a connoisseur and collector of gems and jewelry. After the family settled down in London in 1795, Henry Philip Hope pursued his interest of building up a collection of gems and jewelry. It was during the course of his quest for renowned gemstones and jewelry, that he acquired the enormous, 1,800-grain, baroque pearl of oriental origin, that subsequently came to be known as the "Hope Pearl." Henry Philip Hope acquired the "Hope Pearl"  at the beginning of the 19th century,  probably somewhere between 1800-1810. Besides the "Hope Pearl" he also acquired a collection of 148 pearls of different sizes, shapes and colors, some of which were of significant sizes. But, one of his most renowned acquisitions was in 1824, when he acquired the 45.52-carat blue diamond of Indian origin, that came to be known as the "Hope Diamond," which is now the proud possession of the NMNH of the Smithsonian Institution. The "Hope Diamond" was subsequently shown to be the "French Blue" or "Tavernier Blue" diamond, that was part of the French Crown Jewels stolen from the Garde Meuble in Paris, on September 17, 1792, during the period of the French revolution. The "Hope Diamond" which was believed to have been stolen from the eye of a Hindu Goddess in India and consequently had a curse placed on it, became one of the most infamous diamonds in the history of famous diamonds, with a series of misfortune that befell the unlucky owners of the diamond throughout its history being attributed to the curse.


Characteristics of the Pearl

The shape, weight, dimensions and color of the pearl

Henry Philip Hope died in the year 1839, and according to a catalogue of the Hope collection, published in the same year, the "Hope Pearl" was described as an oriental pearl of an irregular pear-shape (baroque), weighing 1800 grains, equivalent to 450 carats or 90 grams. The dimensions of the pearl were given as 5.08 cm (2 ins) in length, with  circumferences of 11.43 cm (4.5 ins) at the broadest end and 8.26 cm (3.25 ins) at narrowest end. The color of the pearl towards its broader end was said to be bronze or a dark green copper tint, gradually clearing into a fine white luster within 3.81 cm (1.5 in) of the narrower end. The pearl appears to have been firmly attached to the inner surface of the shell, and the point of attachment still shows on the surface of the pearl, even though the area has been polished to resemble the other parts of the pearl. Thus the "Hope Pearl" is actually a blister pearl as it developed  while attached to the inner surface of the shell of the mollusk.


A natural saltwater baroque pearl

Baroque pearls are irregularly shaped pearls and can be freshwater, saltwater, cultured or natural pearls. The "Hope Pearl" is a natural saltwater baroque pearl, and was at one time considered to be the largest saltwater baroque pearl in existence. In the late 16th to 17th centuries baroque pearls were very popular. This was because baroque pearls were flexible pieces of gemstones, with unique shapes and unexpected colors. The jewelry designers of the time combined the baroque pearl's curious shape with the contours of the image they intended to create. One such creation was the swan pendant found in the State Hermitage Museum, created by jewelry designers in the Netherlands in the 1590s, incorporating gold, enamel, pearl, diamonds and rubies, and is a masterpiece in jewelry designing of the period.




In keeping with this ancient tradition, Henry Philip Hope got his irregular pear-shaped baroque  pearl mounted on an attractive pendant setting, in which it still exists up to this day. The narrow end of the pearl is capped with an arched crown of red enameled gold, set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. A ring attached to the top of the crown enabled the setting to be used as a pendant to a necklace.


The body color, overtones  and orient of the Hope Pearl

The color of the "Hope Pearl" is not uniform, but varies from a silvery white color at the narrow end to a greenish gold or bronze color at the broader end. A pearl's color is a combination of its body color, the overtone and iridescence. The body color of a pearl is its main color. The body colors of natural pearls can be white, silver, cream, gold, green, blue and black. Factors that determine the body color of a pearl are :- 1) The species of mollusk that produces the pearl, as certain colors are associated with a particular species of mollusk 2) The thickness and number of layers of nacre - A thick nacre is associated with rich color, more iridescence and more overtones. A thin nacre produces a milky-looking pearl with few overtones. 3) Conditions of the aquatic environment of the oyster, possibly including the presence of certain trace elements 4) For cultured pearls, the type of nucleus implanted to stimulate the creation of the pearl.

Overtones are translucent colors that can sometimes appear on top of the pearl's main body color, and are directly associated with the thickness and number of layers of nacre. While overtones tend to modify the body color slightly, they can also add depth and glow to a pearl. eg. A white pearl may have a light pink or silver overtone to it.

The "Orient" of a pearl is defined as the shimmering, iridescent colors, that appear to move and glitter as the pearl is rotated. This visual effect is caused by the way light is reflected and scattered as it passes through the thin layers of nacre on the surface of the pearl.

Photographs of the "Hope Pearl" appear to reveal that the main body color of the pearl is white with a silvery overtone in most regions of the pearl, towards the narrower end, and a bronze colored or greenish gold overtone at its broader end. This undoubtedly is associated with the thickness and number of layers of nacre, which should also produce a perfect "Orient" with its shimmering and iridescent characteristics.


History of the Hope Pearl

Source of the pearl

In his book the "The Book of the Pearl," Kunz refers to the "Hope Pearl" as an oriental pearl of an irregular pear-shape weighing 1,800 grains. It is not clear whether Kunz was referring to the origin of the pearl when he described the pearl as an oriental pearl, or he was referring to the iridescent nature of the pearl, which is known as the orient of the pearl, one of the seven characteristics that determine the quality of a pearl :- nacre, luster, orient, surface, size, shape and color.

In any case given the period when the enormous baroque pearl first surfaced, beginning of the 19th century, the Hope Pearl is undoubtedly of oriental origin, perhaps discovered from the traditional pearl fishing areas of the orient, such as the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea or the Gulf of Mannar, the hub of the pearl fishing industry for over 4,000 years. For a short period of 150 years from around  1550 to 1700, the hub of the pearl fishing industry shifted from Asia to areas like Venezuela and Panama  in  the New World, but soon supplies were exhausted due to over fishing by the Spanish colonialists, and Asia regained its pre-eminence as the world's main supplier of pearls.

Lord Henry Philip Hope

©Smithsonian Institution

The Hope Pearl, one of the first acquisitions by Henry Philip Hope

The "Hope Pearl" was among the first acquisitions of Henry Philip Hope after he pursued his interest in building up a collection of gems and jewelry following his family's relocation to London from Amsterdam, in 1795. In all probability the pearl was purchased at the turn of the century, and was believed to be a recent discovery at that time. It is not known whether it was jewelers from London or Amsterdam who designed the crown-like mount for the pearl, turning it to a pendant. Hope also acquired many famous gemstones and diamonds for his collection, including the famous "Hope Diamond" and a collection of 148 natural pearls, some of which were of significant sizes. A catalogue of the Hope's collection was published in the year 1839, the same year Henry Philip Hope passed away.


The fate of the Hope Pearl after Henry Philip Hope's death

Henry Philip Hope never married, and he left his estate including his collection of jewels to his three nephews, the sons of Henry Thomas Hope. It is said that he left contradictory wills dividing his estate among his three nephews. This led to 10 years of bitter litigation over his estate, and finally his estate, including his jewels were split up among his nephews. The oldest nephew, Henry Thomas Hope, received eight of the most valuable gems, which also included the "Hope Diamond." However, it is not known whether the eight valuable gems also included the "Hope Pearl." The "Hope Diamond" was put on display at the Great London Exhibition in 1851, and later the Paris Exhibition Universelle in 1855. But, whoever who inherited the "Hope Pearl" together with some of the other jewels of the collection, left it at the South Kensington Museum (later Victoria Albert Museum) for many years, until they were sold at an auction at Christie's London, in 1886. The pearl was purchased by Messrs. Garrard & Co. of London, at a price of £9,000. In the year 1913, the value of the pearl was appraised at $17,000. In 1975, the "Hope Pearl" resurfaced again and was purchased by H. E. Mohammed Mahdi Al-Tajir, ambassador of the UAE to Great Britain and France, at a price of $200,000. He added the famous and historic pearl to his collection of pearls.


H. E. Mohammed Mahdi Al-Tajir, ambassador of the UAE to Great Britain and France

Mohammed Mahdi Al-Tajir served as principal adviser to the Sheik of the United Arab Emirates, and also as UAE's ambassador to Great Britain and France, since 1975. He started his public career by helping reorganize the Dubai customs office. Subsequently he went into private business, taking an interest in the gold trade. In 1975, Mohammed Mahdi Al-Tajir was said to be one of the world's wealthiest men. Among the enormous assets he owned were farms in France, London's Park Tower Hotel, real estate in Paris, shares in African mines, an oil well in Texas, Wall Street stocks, a new bank in the Cayman Islands, collections of pearls and Persian carpets. He also acquired "Dropmore" a 300-year-old estate, adding it to his collection of English country homes.


The Hope Pearl is the property of an anonymous private collector from England

It appears that Mohammed Mahdi Al-Tajir had also sold the pearl, but the year of disposal of the pearl is not known. Today, the "Hope Pearl" is the property of an anonymous private collector from England, who also owns the 2,400 grains "Pearl of Asia," with a history dating back to the Moghul period of India. The anonymous collector has loaned the famous pearl to be displayed at the British Museum of Natural History.


Significant pearls among Henry Philip Hope's collection of 148 natural pearls

Among the 148 natural pearls in the jewels collection of Henry Philip Hope, there were several pearls of significant sizes. A summary of the characteristics of nine of these pearls are given below in the table.


Summary of characteristics of nine large pearls in the Hope collection arranged in descending order of weights


Shape of Pearl

Weight Color


1 Conical 151 grains cream-white Polynesia
2 Button 124 grains bluish-white unknown
3 Oval 94 grains cream-colored South Seas
4 Spherical 89 grains blue and light bronze unknown
5 Acorn 85 grains bluish-white unknown
6 Oval conch pearl 82.25 grains pink unknown
7 Button conch pearl 77.5 grains yellowish-white unknown
8 Drop-shaped 76.5 grains white, with red, purple and green overtones unknown
9 Pear 34.75 milky-bluish cast with pink overtone Scottish


Hope Pearl reunited with the Hope Diamond after 166 years

An exhibition of pearls known as "The Allure of Pearls" held in the Harry Winston Gallery of the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, of the NMNH of the Smithsonian Institution, from March 18 to September 5, 2005, brought together some of the rarest, spectacular, most famous and historic pearls in the world. An event of great significance on this occasion, was the re-unification of two of the most famous gemstones in the world, the "Hope Diamond" and the "Hope Pearl" after 156 years, made possible by holding the exhibition in the Harry Winston Gallery, the home of the Hope Diamond, since Harry Winston donated the infamous diamond to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958. The two famous gemstones were part of the collection of jewels belonging to Henry Philip Hope, brother of Henry Thomas Hope, who were heirs and successes to a vast banking business based in London and Amsterdam. After Henry Philip Hope's death in 1839, there was a bitter litigation over his estate by his three nephews, for almost 10 years, and his estate including the jewels were split up in 1849. Thus the two famous gemstones, the Hope Diamond and the Hope Pearl were reunited for the first time after 1849, at least under one roof, during the six months period of the exhibition in 2005. The Hope Pearl was loaned for the exhibition by its owner, an anonymous collector from England, who also loaned another famous pearl for the occasion, the 2,400 grain (600 carat) Pearl of Asia, one of the largest natural pearls in the world.

Other famous pearls that were displayed at "The Allure of Pearls" exhibition were :-

1) The 203.84 grains (50.96 carats) "La Pelegrina Pearl" with a recorded history of 500 years, loaned by its present owner Elizabeth Taylor.

2) The 257.60 grains (64.40 carat) "Pearl of Kuwait" loaned by Symbolic and Chase.

3) The 750.00 grains (187.50 carat) "Christopher Walling Abalone Pearl" loaned by Paspaley Pearls Pty. Ltd.

4) The 243.60 grains (60.90 carat) Paspaley Pearl, one of the largest, perfectly spherical cultured pearls ever produced, and loaned by Paspaley Pearls Pty. Ltd.

5) The 135.20 grains (33.80 carat) Drexel Pearl set in a Belle Epoque pendant-brooch by Cartier, loaned by Andrew Cohen S. A.

6) The Queen Mary Brooch set with two large pink conch pearls having weights of 99.60 grains (24.90 carats) and 112.40 grains  (28.10 carats), and loaned by Georges Ruiz and P. Lancon.

7) The Paspaley drop-shaped pearls each weighing 75.20 grains (18.80 carats) and loaned by Paspaley Pearls Pty. Ltd.

8) The 90.4-carat "Survival Pearl" an exceptional example of a freshwater pearl from Tennessee River, loaned by American Pearl Company.

9) 89.60 grains (22.40 carats) and 71.60 grains (17.90 carats) Queen Conch pearls from the Caribbean, loaned by Susan Hendrickson.

10) The 26.0 grains (6.5 carats) natural black colored pearl, the "Black Beauty" from the Caribbean, loaned by the American Pearl Company.

This unique exhibition that brought together 12 of the rarest pearls in the world, was sponsored by Paspaley Pearls Pty. Ltd., Iridesse Pearls, and the Gemological Institute of America.


Hope Pearl exhibited again at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris

The "Hope Pearl" was put on display again recently from October 25, 2007 to March 10, 2008, at a special exhibition of pearls, known as "Perles, une histoire naturelle" (Pearls, a natural history), held at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Some of the other exhibits in this display were the "Marie Antoinette Pearl Necklace, a pearl brooch gifted by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria, the Kuwait Pearl etc.

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Back to Famous Pearls


Related :-

1) The Hope Diamond

2) Pearl of Allah/ Pearl of Lao Tzu

3) Arco Valley Pearl

4) La Pelegrina Pearl

5) La Peregrina Pearl


1.Thomas Hope - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   
2.The Book of the Pearl - Kunz. 
3.Hope Diamond - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
4.Pearl Color - Pearl-Guide.com, the world's largest pearl information source  
5.Mineral Sciences Exhibition - The Allure of Pearls, website of the NMNH 
6.Pearl - GO 340 Gemstones and Gemology, Emporia State University
7.Pearl - Website of the Department of Geological Sciences, The University of Texas, Austin.   
8.Encyclopaedia Britannica - 2006  




Dr Shihaan Larif
Founder Internet Stones.COM



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