Lareef A. Samad B.Sc (Hons)
Christie's Geneva Magnificent Jewels Sale held in November 2013 was a significant milestone in the history of one of world's oldest auction houses founded in 1766, for more than one reason. The auction set the world record for an orange diamond, when a pear-shaped fancy vivid orange diamond weighing 14.82 carats sold for US$ 35,540,000, which incidentally also set the world record price per carat (US$ 2.4 million per carat) for any diamond sold at an auction. The auction registered a record total of US$ 125,360,131, selling 89% by lot and 96% by value. Lots that fared extremely well at the auctions included the Patino Collection, royal jewels that included Princess Faiza's Art Deco Emerald and Diamond Fringe Necklace, stylish creations from the collection of Hélène Rochas and also natural pearl jewelry of royal provenance.
Out of the natural pearl jewelry lots, one lot that performed extremely well was Lot 252, which was characterized as A SPECTACULAR SEVEN-STRAND NATURAL PEARL AND DIAMOND NECKLACE, said to be the property of an unidentified Royal family and sold for a whopping $9,081,662 the highest price ever paid for a multi-strand pearl necklace.
True to its characterization the seven-strand natural pearl and diamond festoon necklace is indeed one of the most spectacular natural pearl necklaces to have appeared at an auction. The necklace consists of seven rows of graduated natural pearls, totaling 614 pearls. The pearls appear to be perfectly matched in terms of shape, size, color, luster, orient and surface-quality, to the extent that one may find it difficult to believe that the pearls incorporated in the necklace are actually natural pearls. Such uniform qualities in pearls are more common among cultured pearls than natural pearls.
Seven-strand natural pearl and diamond necklace
In natural pearls non-symmetrical shapes, such as the baroque and semi-baroque shapes are more common than symmetrical shapes, such as spherical, near-spherical, oval, drop-shape and button-shape. Hence, assembling a strand of natural pearls that matches in shape alone is an extremely difficult task, and may require an unlimited supply of pearls, from which one could select. When shape is combined with other characters such as size, color, luster etc, the task becomes progressively more complicated. Thus, one could imagine the enormous difficulties the designer of this natural pearl necklace would have undergone, to put together a graduated pearl necklace, matching for all important characteristics consisting of not just one single strand, but seven different strands !!! In this respect this remarkable natural pearl festoon necklace undoubtedly qualifies to be included in the list of famous pearls and famous pearl jewelry.
The length of the shortest strand in the necklace is 53.5cm, equivalent to 21.1 ins. Hence, according to the modern system of classifying pearl necklaces, given in the table below, the shortest strand falls under the category of "Matinee." Even though the length of the longest strand is not given, by rough estimation, the seventh strand is undoubtedly more than 35 ins. long and therefore falls under the category of "Rope." Hence, the combined seven-strand pearl necklace varies between the categories of "Matinee" and "Rope."
Modern system of classifying pearl necklaces based on length
|S/N||Length in inches||
Name of necklace
|1||10 - 13 ins.||Collar|
|2||14 - 16 ins.||Choker|
|3||17 - 20 ins.||Princess|
|4||21 - 24 ins.||Matinee|
|5||25 -34 ins.||Opera|
In each of the seven strands a single large median pearl could be identified, on the loop of the festoon, and the size of the pearls gradually decrease on either side of this median pearl, the smallest pearls being situated closer to the clasp. The shape of the median pearl is also not uniform. In the innermost or first strand the median pearl is spherical. In the second and third strands the median pearl is button-shaped. In the fourth and fifth strands the median pearl is again spherical or near-spherical. In the sixth strand it is oval shaped and in the seventh-strand near-spherical.
The arrangement of the pearls from the inner strand to the outer strand can be shown as below, in which No.1 in the middle represents the median pearl, and the numbers on either side, the number of pearls on each half of the strand.1) Inner strand (1st-strand) - 37 - 1 - 37 = 75
2) Second strand - 37 - 1 - 38 = 76
3) Third strand - 40 - 1 - 40 = 81
4) Fourth strand - 43 - 1 - 43 = 87
5) Fifth strand - 45 - 1 - 45 = 91
6) Sixth strand - 48 - 1 - 51 = 100
7) Seventh strand - 51 -1 - 52 = 104
All median pearls in the necklace, roughly lie along a median vertical line. Ideally the number of pearls on either side of the median pearl should be equal. This is true only for strand one, three, four and five. In strands two, six and seven, the number of pearls on the right side of the median pearl is slightly higher than on the left side.
The total number of pearls in the entire necklace is 614.
Seven-strand natural pearl and diamond necklace with the clasp open
A careful examination of the two images of the seven-strand pearl necklace given above, shows that most of the pearls in the necklace, particularly towards the rear of the necklace, are either spherical or near-spherical in shape. However, an examination of the front or festoon region of the necklace shows that around 50 pearls in this region have a variety of shapes. One can easily identify the shapes of these large pearls such as spherical, near-spherical, oval, button and dome shapes. As far as possible the designer of the necklace has attempted to place pearls of similar shape and size at symmetrical positions on either side of the median line of the necklace, so that the multi-strand necklace gives a semblance of perfect symmetry.
Close-up of the festoon region of the necklace showing spherical, near-spherical, oval, button and dome-shaped pearls
The size of the pearls vary from 5.1 mm to 17.05 mm, the smallest and largest pearl, out of the 614 pearls in the necklace.
4th, 5th, 6th and 7th median pearls in the necklace (from top to bottom)
The largest pearls in the necklace are the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th median pearls. The 4th and 5th median pearls are spherical pearls. The 6th median pearl is an oval-shaped pearl, and the 7th median pearl a near-spherical pearl. The 17.05 mm pearl can be anyone of these four pearls.
The smallest pearls in the necklace are the two rows directly attached to the bar-clasps.
The range in size of the pearls is from 5.1 mm to 17.05 mm. Around 50 pearls in the festoon region, which are the largest pearls in the necklace have a range in size from around 10 mm to 17.05 mm. However, a majority of the pearls in the necklace (614-50=564); i.e. over 550 pearls have a range in size of 5-10 mm. This roughly corresponds with the average size range of pearls produced by Pinctada radiata (Gulf pearl oyster) which is equal to 3-8 mm. Pinctada radiata is well-known for producing seed pearls less than 2 mm in diameter and pearls of average size ranging from 3 to 8 mm. Occasionally, Pinctada radiata also produces pearls greater than 8 mm in diameter, and the 50 pearls ranging in size from 10 - 17.05 mm might be among such pearls. Hence in all probability the pearls in the necklace were produced by the oyster species Pinctada radiata, that was commonly found in the ancient pearl banks of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar, the most prolific source of pearls in ancient times.
Lot 252, A SPECTACULAR SEVEN-STRAND NATURAL PEARL AND DIAMOND NECKLACE was accompanied by report no. 69866 dated 20 September 2013 from the SSEF - Swiss Gemmological Institute, stating that the 614 pearls are natural saltwater pearls.
An Appendix letter attached to the report titled "Exceptional Natural Pearl Necklace" indicated that "These pearls exhibit a smooth pearl surface, resulting in a fine and matching pearl luster. Their colour subtly ranges from white to cream, partly with distinct rosé and green overtones. These overtones - poetically also referred to as the 'Orient of the pearls' - are an iridescence effect caused on the surface of pearls and contribute greatly to the beauty of these pearls."
Hence, the main body color of the pearls according to the above report issued by SSEF is white to cream with distinct pink (rose) and green overtones. The color and overtones of the pearls are consistent with the color and overtones of pearls produced by the pearl oyster Pinctada radiata found in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar.
Natural pearls from the Persian Gulf have a variety of colors with distinctive traditional trade names, such as :-
1)White - Abyadh
2)Dull-white - Basali
3)Black - Aswad
4)Cream - Keremi
5)Rose-pink - Wardi
6)Light-yellow - Ashgar
7)Whitish-blue or whitish-grey - Singbassi
8)Whitish-blue or glassy-white with high lustre - Alzujaji
9)White with a pinkish hue - Mushayer
10)Cream with a reddish hue - Nabati
11)White or cream with a bluish-hue - Samawi
12)White or cream with a strong green hue - Akhthar
13)White with strong iridescent colors - Gallabi
According to the above classification of Gulf pearls, the pearls in this necklace with a body color of white or cream with distinct pink or green overtones fall under the categories of "Abyad," "Keremi," "Mushayer," and "Akhthar."
According to the SSEF appendix attached to the report the pearls exhibit a smooth pearl surface, resulting in a fine and matching pearl luster. This is a clear reference to the exceptional surface-quality of the pearls, with most of the pearls appearing to be smooth and apparently blemish-free.
Luster and orient are optical properties caused respectively by reflection and refraction of light. Luster is caused by the reflection of light from the surface and just below the surface of the pearl. The SSEF appendix attributes the fine and matching pearl luster to the smooth surface of the pearls. This is obviously true as luster is caused by the reflection of light from the surface, and a smooth surface undoubtedly reflects more light than a rough surface.
Orient is caused by the refraction of light as it passes through alternating layers of conchiolin and aragonite in the deeper layers of nacre. Orient is actually the play of colors one can observe, when the pearl is moved between one's fingers. In other words it is an iridescence effect, a colorful rainbow-like sheen caused by the scattering of light by the aragonite platelets in the nacre. Both luster and orient are dependant on the thickness of nacre, and natural pearls have the maximum luster and orient, being made entirely of nacre. Actually a pearl's color is a combination of its dominant bodycolor, overtone, the subtle colours that seem to come from within the pearl, and orient, the “play of color” you see when the pearl moves.
These overtones - poetically also referred to as the 'Orient of the pearls' - are an iridescence effect caused on the surface of pearls and contribute greatly to the beauty of these pearls.
The above statement in the SSEF appendix, is strictly speaking incorrect, as it gives the notion that Overotnes and Orient of a pearl refer to the same property of iridescence caused by the refraction of light as it passes through successive layers of aragonite. The overtone color of a pearl is a subtle, translucent color that lies under a pearl's surface and is secondary to the body color. It is not caused by iridescence. Orient on the other hand is a colorful rainbow-like sheen caused by the scattering of light by the aragonite platelets in the nacre, an effect known as "iridescence."
The bar-clasp made of platinum or white-gold is set with 14 cushion-shaped old-mine-cut diamonds. These are the only diamonds in the necklace, that gave the name "pearl and diamond" to the necklace. Otherwise, the seven-strand necklace is predominantly a natural pearl festoon necklace. The structural features of the bar-clasp such as the metal used and the cut of the diamonds employed, might give a clue to the probable period of origin of the seven-strand natural pearl festoon necklace.
Bar-clasp of the seven-strand pearl necklace
The characteristics of the pearls such as their range in size, the color and overtones if any, the luster and brilliance and shape of the pearls can give useful information of their source. The SSEF report no doubt confirms the natural and saltwater origins of the pearls in the necklace. But, this fact is clearly evident from the extraordinary luster and brilliance of the pearls, a feature characteristic of only natural and saltwater pearls. Only natural pearls can have that extra brilliance which most cultured pearls lack, a direct consequence of their composition, which is 100% nacre.
Extra-brilliance and sheen of the saltwater pearls in the necklace
This extra brilliance of the pearls also distinguishes between pearls of saltwater origin and freshwater origin, the former always having that extra sheen which is absent in the latter.
Another feature that confirms the saltwater origins of the pearls is the overall regular symmetrical shapes of the pearls in the necklace, the majority being spherical or near-spherical and other having shapes such as button-shape, oval-shape, and dome-shape.In natural freshwater pearls the commonest shape is baroque and putting together such a necklace consisting of seven strands and 614 pearls of regular shape, using natural freshwater pearls is a near impossibility.
Even among natural saltwater pearls regular shapes are not so common, yet, from an unlimited supply of such pearls one may still succeed to put together such a necklace albeit with difficulty.
The range in size of the pearls and their color and overtones give an indication of the species of saltwater pearl oyster from which the pearls probably originated, from which we can deduce the possible source of the pearls. The range in size of a majority of pearls in the necklace as pointed out earlier, varies from 5-10 mm. This conforms to the range in size of pearls produced by the saltwater pearl oyster Pinctada radiata, well known for producing large quantities of seed pearls, apart from significant quantities of medium sized pearls ranging in size from 3 mm to 8 mm or in terms of weight from 0.75 grains to 14 grains. Pearls greater than 8 mm in size or 14 grains in weight are also sometimes produced but are very rare. There are only around 50 pearls in the entire necklace of 614 pearls, whose diameter exceeds 10 mm.
The body colors of the pearls, white and cream and the overtone colors with distinct pink or green overtones conform to the body color and overtones of Persian Gulf pearls produced by Pinctada radiata and Ceylon pearls also produced by the same species. The Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar between Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and India had been the hub of the natural pearl industry since very ancient times, and this industry was based on the pearl oyster species Pinctada radiata, the most prolific pearl producer in the history of the pearl industry.
Hence, the most probable source of the pearls in the seven-strand festoon pearl necklace is either the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Mannar. The Persian Gulf had been a consistent source of saltwater pearls from pre-historic times until around the mid-20th-century, when the discovery of oil in the Persian Gulf and the production of cultured pearls by the Japanese gave the final death blow to the industry. Likewise, the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka had also been a consistent source of pearls since very ancient times until the early 20th-century, when over-expoitation of the pearl banks and the depletion of oyster populations finally led to the abandoning of the ancient pearl industry in 1906.
However, it is difficult to pinpoint a period of origin for these pearls, unless other sources of evidence are available. The metal used in the bar-clasp which appears to be either silver, platinum or white gold might give a clue. Silver and gold were the commonly used metals in the Victorian period from 1837 to 1901. Platinum was first used in jewelry in the Edwardian period between 1901 and 1915. White gold, a cheaper alternative to platinum, was first introduced as a material for jewelry crafting in the 1920s, during the Art Deco period. Hence, based on this evidence alone the multi-strand festoon pearl necklace probably originated either during the Victorian period, Edwardian period or the Art Deco period that followed immediately afterwards.
The use of Old-mine cut diamonds in the clasp might also give a clue to the period of origin of the necklace. The Old-mine cut was first developed in the early 1800s and probably used even after the development of the old-European cut in the 1870s. The Old-mine Cut diamonds most notably possess a cushion shape as a result of maximizing the octahedral outline of natural rough diamonds, and retaining weight. Apart from the squarish-outline, the Old-mine cut has a very small table and a large culet. The symmetry of the diamonds were also not so perfect as modern brilliant cuts. Old-mine cut diamonds were popular during the Victorian period and its usage might have extended even into the Edwardian period. If the metal used in the clasp is silver, this fact combined with the use of old-mine cut diamonds, would without any doubt indicate that the seven-strand natural pearl necklace originated during the Victorian period. If the metal used in the clasp is platinum on which the old-mine cut diamonds were set, the probable period of origin of the necklace would be either the Edwardian or Art Deco periods. If the metal used in the clasp is white gold, on which the old-mine cut diamonds were set, without any doubt the necklace originated during the Art Deco period.
The multi-strand necklace characterized as a A SPECTACULAR SEVEN-STRAND NATURAL PEARL AND DIAMOND NECKLACE was Lot No. 252 at Christie's Geneva Magnificent Jewels sale 1400, held on November 12, 2013. A pre-sale estimate of US$ 3,047,619 - US$ 4,571,429 was placed on the necklace. However, the necklace faired better than expected at the auctions, eventually selling for US$ 9,081,662, which was almost three times the lower estimate and twice the upper estimate. The enhanced price recorded was in keeping with the trend for jewelry incorporating natural pearls to register increased prices at public auctions, a trend that also reflects the premium values attached to natural pearls of antiquity. The royal provenance of the necklace had only played a minimal part in the enhanced price realized as the identity of royal family was withheld.
The price of US$ 9,081,662 realized was a record for a multistrand pearl necklace, or for that matter any pearl necklace irrespective of the number of strands. This fact is clearly borne out from the table below giving the list of pearls/pearl jewelry/pearl settings, that performed exceptionally well at public auctions, registering record-breaking prices. The pearls/pearl jewelry/pearl settings are arranged in chronological order of their sale at public auctions.
List of Pearls/Pearl Jewelry/Pearl Settings that Performed Exceptionally Well at Public Auctions Arranged in Chronological Order of their Sale
|S/N||Name of pearl/pearl jewelry||Probable period of origin||
|Date of auction||Price realized|
|1||Mancini pearls -drop shape pearl pendants||1500-1600||400 grains||Christie's New York Oct.1979||USD 253,000|
|2||Mona Bismarck 2-strand pearl necklace||1920-1930||Double-strand of 70 pearls||Sotheby's Geneva May 1986||USD 410,000|
|3||Empress Eugenie tiara||1853||212 pearls, 2,520 grains||Sold to Friends of Louvre Society Nov 1992 by privately negotiated sale||USD 650,000|
|4||Nina Dyer black pearl necklace||1950s||151 natural black pearls||Christie's Geneva Nov 1997||USD 913,320|
|5||Barbara Hutton pearl necklace||1600-1666||44 natural pearls, total weight of 1,816.68 grains||Christie's Geneva, May 1992
Christie's Geneva, Nov 1999
|6||Double-strand natural pearl necklace by Cartier||Historical provenance not revealed||two-strand necklace with 88 natural pearls||Christie's Geneva, Nov 2004||USD 3,100,000|
|7||La Regente||1811||302.68 grains||
Christie's Geneva,Nov 2005
|8||Princess Margaret's Five-row Art Deco Pearl and Diamond Necklace||1948||Made up of 319 natural pearls||Christie's London, June 2006||
|9||Gulf pearl parure designed by Harry Winston||1932-1978||Christie's Geneva Nov 2006||USD 4,100,000|
|10||Baroda pearl necklace||1856-1870||Double-strand with 68 natural pearls from the original 7-strand necklace||Christie's New York April 2007||USD 7,096,000|
|11||Duchess of Windsor pearl necklace||1910-1936||Single-strand of 28 natural pearls. Total weight 1266.33 grains||Sotheby's Geneva April 1987
Sotheby's New York Dec 2007
|12||Yellow to Pinkish Orange Near-Spherical Nacreous Pearl||Second largest freshwater pearl 60.36-carats 241.44-grains||Christie's Dubai, April 2008||
|13||Umm Kulthum pearl necklace||1880||nine-stranded necklace with 1,888 pearls||Christie's Dubai, April 2008||USD 1,390,000|
|14||A superb four-row natural pearl and diamond necklace||19th-century||Made up of 219 natural saltwater pearls||Christie's Dubai, April 2008||USD 1,743,400|
|15||Pearl necklace from an unidentified notable collection||Historical provenance not revealed||Single-strand necklace with 41 natural pearls||Sotheby's Geneva, Nov 2008||USD 1,321,110|
|16||Multi-strand pearl and diamond festoon necklace of unknown provenance||Historical provenance not revealed||Nine-strand pearl and diamond festoon necklace. Length 645mm to 1060mm||Sotheby's Geneva, Nov 2008||USD 946,610|
|17||Pearl Carpet of Baroda||1860||1.5-2.0 million natural seed pearls||Sotheby's Arts of the Islamic World Auction, Doha, Qatar, March 2009||USD 5,500,000|
|18||Emperor, Yongzheng's (Yinzhen) Ceremonial Eastern Pearl Court Necklace||1722-1735||Made up of 108 freshwater eastern pearls||Sotheby's Hong Kong, April 8, 2010||USD 8,700,000|
|19||La Peregrina Pearl and Necklace||1513||203.84 grains||
Sotheby's London 1969
Christie's New York Dec 2011
|20||Five-strand Natural Pearl Necklace||Made up of 349 saltwater natural pearls. range - 4.10-11.35 mm||Christie's New York, April 2012||USD 1,672,900|
|21||Cowdray Pearl Necklace||Single row of 38 graduated natural grey pearls||Christie's London, June 2012||
|22||Double-strand Natural Pearl Necklace by Cartier||Made up of 120 pearls. Range - 6.50-12.25 mm||Christie's New York, Oct. 2012||USD 3,660,000|
|23||Three-strand Natural Pearl Necklace||Made up of 180 natural pearls ranging in size from 4.95-11.05 mm||Christie's New York, April 2013||USD 1,131,750|
|24||Three-strand Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace by Chaumet||Sotheby's Geneva, May 2013||
|25||Gina Lollobrigida's natural, drop-shaped pearl and diamond ear-pendants||Originally from the collection of House of Habsburg||Sotheby's Geneva, May 2013||USD 2,391,322|
|26||A Single-row Natural Pearl, Emerald and Diamond Necklace||Made up of 23 graduated natural pearls. Range - 10.4-13.7 mm||Christie's Geneva, May 2013||USD 8,460,675|
|27||Seven-strand Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace||Probably 19th or early 20th Century||614 natural saltwater pearls||
Christie's Geneva, Nov 2013
Please do not copy our tables without our permission. We may be compelled to inform the search engines if our content and tables are plagiarised.
1) The La Peregrina Pearl and double-strand pearl necklace by Cartier from Elizabeth Taylor's jewelry collection that sold for US$ 11,000,000 at Christie's New York in December 2011, is the most expensive piece of natural pearl jewelry and natural pearl necklace in the world as well as the most expensive double-strand pearl necklace in the world.
2) The Seven-Strand Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace, the subject of this webpage, is the second most expensive natural pearl necklace in the world, selling for US$ 9,081,662 at Christie's Geneva in November 2013. This necklace is also the most expensive multistrand natural pearl necklace in the world.
3)Emperor, Yongzheng's (Yinzhen) Single-Strand Ceremonial Eastern Pearl Court Necklace, made up of 108 freshwater eastern pearls that sold for US$ 8,700,000 at Sotheby's Hong Kong, in April 2010 is the 3rd most expensive natural pearl necklace in the world. It is also the most expensive natural freshwater pearl necklace in the world and also the most expensive single-strand natural pearl necklace in the world.
4) A Single-Strand Natural Pearl, Emerald and Diamond Necklace of unknown provenance, made up of 23 slightly graduated natural pearls, with a range in size of 10.4-13.7 mm that sold for US$ 8,460,675 at Christie's Geneva, in May 2013 is the 4th most expensive natural pearl necklace in the world. It is also the 2nd most expensive single-strand natural pearl necklace in the world, and the most expensive single-strand saltwater natural pearl necklace in the world.
5) The Double-Strand Baroda Pearl Necklace that sold for US$ 7,096,000 at Christie's New York in April 2007, is the 5th most expensive natural pearl necklace in the world, and the 2nd most expensive double-strand natural pearl necklace in the world.
6) Double-strand Natural Pearl Necklace by Cartier, made up of 120 pearls with range in size of 6.50-12.25 mm that sold for USD 3,660,000 at Christie's New York in October 2012, is the 6th most expensive natural pearl necklace in the world, and the 3rd most expensive double-strand natural pearl necklace in the world.
7) Single-Strand Duchess of Windsor Natural Pearl Necklace made of 28 natural pearls that sold for US$ 3,625,000 at Sotheby's New York in Dec 2007, is the 7th most expensive pearl necklace in the world. It is the 3rd most expensive single-strand natural pearl necklace in the world and the 2nd most expensive single-strand natural saltwater pearl necklace in the world.
8) The Single-Strand Cowdray Pearl Necklace made up of 38 graduated natural grey pearls that sold for US$ 3,353,700 is the 8th most expensive pearl necklace in the world; the 4th most expensive single-strand natural pearl necklace in the world; and the most expensive natural grey pearl necklace in the world.
9) Double-strand natural pearl necklace by Cartier of unknown historical provenance made up of 88 natural pearls that sold for US$ 3,100,000 at Christie's Geneva in November 2004, is the 9th most expensive pearl necklace in the world and the 4th most expensive double-strand natural pearl necklace in the world.
10) The most expensive natural pearl parure in the world is the Gulf pearl parure designed by Harry Winston that sold for US$ 4,100,000 at Christie's Geneva in Nov 2006.
11) The most expensive special natural pearl setting in the world is the Pearl Carpet of Baroda made up of 1.5-2.0 million natural seed pearls that sold for US$ 5,500,000 at Sotheby's Arts of the Islamic World Auction, Doha, Qatar, in March 2009.
You are welcome to discuss this post/related topics with Dr Shihaan and other experts from around the world in our FORUMS (forums.internetstones.com)
1) A SPECTACULAR SEVEN-STRAND NATURAL PEARL AND DIAMOND NECKLACE - Lot 252, Sale 1400, Christie's Magnificent Jewels Geneva Sale, November 12, 2013 Lot finder
2) Pearls : Forever Fashionable - www.gia.edu/gia-news-research-Pearls-Forever-Fashionable
Dr Shihaan Larif
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