Single-Strand Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace from the Collection of an unidentified European Noble Family

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Origin of Name

The name refers to a natural pearl and diamond necklace, from the collection of an unidentified European noble family, consisting of 40 natural pearls of medium size and a brown pearl and diamond clasp, that appeared at the Sotheby's "Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels" Sale, held in Geneva, on Tuesday, May 11, 2010. The necklace that was assigned Lot No.365, sold for 9 times the upper and 12 times the lower pre-sale estimate, clearly signifying the recovery of the auction market for natural pearls, diamonds and other items of jewelry, after their dismal performance  just 1-2 years ago at the height of the global recession, when several important lots remained unsold. 

 

Characteristics of the   Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace

The necklace is a choker under the modern system of classifying pearl necklaces based on their lengths

The length of the natural pearl and diamond necklace is approximately 41.5 cm, which is equivalent to 16 inches. According to the modern system of classifying pearl necklaces, based on their lengths, a strand of 16 inches falls within the category of a choker, whose length varies from 14-16 inches.

Single strand natural pearl and diamond necklace from the collection of an unidentified European noble family.

Single strand natural pearl and diamond necklace from the collection of an unidentified European noble family.

© Sotheby's

The arrangement of the pearls in the necklace

The single-strand natural pearl and diamond necklace consists of 40 graduated pearls, with the largest pearls in front and the size of the pearls gradually decreasing towards the clasp of the necklace. The total number of pearls being an even number, their arrangement is not perfectly symmetrical. The arrangement is 20 - 1 - 19, with a single large perfectly spherical  pearl at the center, which may be referred to as the "median" pearl, and 20 and 19 pearls situated on either side of it. Individual pearls in the necklace appear to be separated by some form of spacers, which is visible right up to the clasp of the necklace.

 

The size of the pearls in the necklace

The size of the pearls in the necklace vary from from 6.8 mm to 12.8 mm. This is a medium range in size when compared to South Sea pearls,  whose sizes vary from 9-20 mm, the largest natural pearls produced by saltwater oysters. The largest diameter 12.8 mm, belong  to the largest pearl in the necklace, which is the "median" pearl. The smallest diameter 6.8 mm belongs to one of the two pearls closest to the clasp, which appear to be the smallest pearls in the necklace. The size range of 6.8 mm to 12.8 mm is equivalent to a weight range of 9-60 grains, according to the conversion table, relating the size of the pearls in millimeters to grains and vice versa, given in Chapter 4 of Kunz & Stevenson's book, "The Book of the Pearl." See table given on webpage "Nine-Strand Natural Pearl Festoon Necklace."

The size range of 6.8-12.8 mm of the pearls partially overlaps with the average size range of Pinctada radiata (Gulf pearl oyster) which is equal to 3-8 mm and the average size range of Pinctada maxima (South Sea pearl oyster), equal to 9-20 mm. Even though Pinctada radiata hardly produces pearls greater than 8 mm in size, it can in rare instances produce pearls greater than 8 mm. Thus, the pearls in the necklace could well have originated from the Gulf pearl oyster, Pinctada radiata. Likewise, even though the average range in size of pearls produced by Pinctada maxima is 9-20 mm, there are instances when pearls produced may be less than 9 mm in size, and thus the range of 6.8 to 12.8 could also have originated in the South Sea pearl oyster, Pinctada maxima.

 

The weight of the pearls in the necklace

The total weight of the necklace, including the pearls and the clasp is given as 47 grams. An approximate weight for the pearls in the necklace could be computed, using Kunz and Stevenson's table, and one could compare how well the weight computed agrees with the given weight of the necklace. See webpage on the Nine-Strand Natural Pearl Festoon Necklace for the table.

The average diameter of the pearls = 6.8 + 12.8/2 = 19.6/2 = 9.8 mm

From the conversion table 9.8 mm = 25 grains.

Average weight of the pearls = 25 grains.

Total weight of 40 pearls = 25 x 40 = 1,000 grains = 1000/4 carats

= 250 carats = 250/5 grams

= 50 grams

Thus total approximate weight of the pearls in the necklace by computation = 50 grams

This compares well with the actual weight of 47 grams for the entire necklace.

 

Shape of the pearls in the necklace

The median pearl, the largest pearl in the necklace appears to be a perfectly spherical pearl. However, a careful examination of the necklace shows that only a few pearls are actually spherical. Most of the pearls in the necklace are near-spherical, button-shaped, oval, pear-shaped and slightly baroque. This is to be expected as the pearls are all natural, and regular symmetrical shapes among them are extremely rare. Thus, the mere fact that these pearls possess a multitude of different shapes, is in itself a strong evidence to show that the pearls in the necklace are natural.

 

Color, overtone, orient and luster of the pearls in the necklace

The color of the pearls is white, the most sought-after color in pearls. The white color of pearls are produced, due to the absence of any colored pigments that are usually associated with the conchiolin part of the nacre, which becomes transparent as a result, allowing the white color of aragonite to show through. Overtone colors if any are not known due to the black background of the photograph of the necklace, that eliminates this optical effect. The orient of the pearls also known as iridescence, caused by refraction of light  is also subdued due to the background. The luster of the pearls caused by reflection of light from the surface and just below the surface of the pearl, is also subdued due to the black background.  Color, overtone, orient and luster of pearls are dependant on the thickness of nacre. These properties are usually at an optimum level in natural pearls, being made entirely of nacre.

 

The surface quality of the pearls

The close-up view of the pearls in the necklace reveal their exceptional surface quality that is apparently blemish-free for most of the pearls in the necklace. It is important to remember that surface-quality is always apparent, and what is perceived by the naked human eye. Micro-blemishes always do occur in pearls, that are seen only by a magnifying glass or microscope. A 100% blemish-free pearl does not exist in nature.

 

The clasp of the necklace

The clasp of the necklace is unique, as its centerpiece is a rare and unique, button-shaped, freshwater, brownish pearl, whose size is as big as the larger pearls in the necklace. Freshwater natural pearls usually have a greater variety of colors than saltwater natural pearls. Some of the other colors in which freshwater pearls usually occur are pink, peach, lavender, black, white, purple, plum and tangerine. The brownish pearl is surrounded by a row of around 20-25 millegrain-set, single-cut diamonds.

 

 

History of the Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace

Source of the pearls in the necklace

As pointed out earlier the range in size of the pearls in the necklace, might give an indication as to the possible source of the pearls. However, as the range partly overlaps with the range in size of pearls produced by Pinctada radiata as well as Pinctada maxima, the pearls could have originated from either one of these two species. Hence, the source of the pearls could have been either the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Mannar, the natural home of the oyster species Pinctada radiata, or the waters off the coast of Broome in northwestern Australia, where Pinctada maxima oysters were exploited on a large scale for the shell button industry, towards the end of the 19th-century and the beginning of the 20th-century. The overtone of the pearls could have helped to differentiate between the two sources of pearls, but in the absence of information on overtones if any, no conclusive deductions can be made.

 

The possible period of origin of the pearl and diamond necklace

Apart from the pearls in the necklace, other evidences that can provide a clue as to the possible period of origin of the necklace are the design features if any on the clasp. One of the distinctive features on the clasp, is the use of millegrain setting for the single-cut diamonds. Millegrain setting, like knife-edge setting, also known as invisible settings were first introduced in the Edwardian period, from 1901 to 1920, that was meant to reveal more of the diamonds and gemstones used in the setting. Thus, based on this evidence alone, the possible period of origin of the necklace is the Edwardian period between 1901 and 1920. The period also corresponds to what was known as the Belle Époque period in France, that extended from 1890 to 1920.

 

Historical provenance of the necklace

Apart from the fact that that the natural pearl and diamond necklace is from the collection of an European noble family, nothing is known of its detailed historical provenance. In fact the necklace, which was lot 365 at the auction, was only one of four lots from the same collection, the other lots being 366, 322 and 329. A clear-cut historical provenance had always been a deciding factor in determining the final price achieved by any historical piece at public auctions, sometimes the value of provenance being as much as the actual value of the piece, or even double or treble the actual value.

 

The natural pearl and diamond necklace was accompanied by a Swiss Gemstone Research Foundation report certifying the natural credentials of the pearls in the necklace

The natural pearl and diamond necklace was Lot No.365, at the Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels Sale, held in Geneva, on May 11, 2010. A modest pre-sale estimate of 25,000 - 35,000 CHF was placed on the necklace. The lot was accompanied by an SSEF (Swiss Gemstone Research Foundation) report, bearing No.56169, certifying that the 40 pearls on the necklace are natural saltwater pearls, and that the brown pearl on the clasp is a natural freshwater pearl, whose color authenticity was not tested.

 

The natural pearl and diamond necklace registers a much enhanced price than the pre-sale estimate at the auctions, a reflection of the recovery of the auction market for natural pearls

After a keenly contested bid, the natural pearl and diamond necklace was sold for an enhanced price of 302,500 CHF. This was 12 times the lower pre-sale estimate of 25,000 CHF and 9 times the upper pre-sale estimate of 35,000 CHF. The significantly elevated price realized for the natural pearl necklace was clearly a reflection of the recovery of the auction market for natural pearls, after the recent global recession. The natural origins of the pearls and their exceptional qualities, undoubtedly had imparted to the pearls their proper value at the auctions. A solid and clear-cut provenance would have even boosted the price further, given the exceptional qualities of the pearls in the necklace.

 

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)

     Back to Famous Pearls

Related :-

1) Single-Strand Natural Pearl Necklace with Emerald and Diamond Clasp

2) Nine-Strand Natural Pearl Festoon Necklace

 

External Links :-

1) Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels Sale. Geneva, May 11, 2010. Lot 365, Pearl And Diamond Necklace

 

References :-

1) Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels Sale. Geneva, May 11, 2010. Lot 365, Pearl And Diamond Necklace.

2) The Book of the Pearl - Kunz & Stevenson.  Chapter 4 :- Structure & Forms of Pearls.

 


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