Large Natural Pearl Sold for US $254,500 at Christie's Dubai

Largest natural pearl ever offered for sale at Christie’s Dubai, sold for US $254,500, at the Christie’s Important Jewels Sale, held on April 20, 2011, at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel. The Pearl that was Lot No. 79 at the sale, was a 239.7-grain, baroque drop-shaped, natural, saltwater, nacreous pearl, with a foliate surmount set with circular-cut diamonds, and suspended as a pendant from a spectacle-set diamond chain 42 cm long. A pre-sale estimate of US $180,000 to $250,000 was placed on the lot. However, the lot was sold for US $254,500, which was $4,500 above the upper pre-sale estimate. The enhanced price realized was attributed by David Warren, International Director of Christie’s Jewelry Department and Head of Jewelry Middle East, to the historic provenance of the pearl and diamond necklace, as well as, the large size of the natural pearl, being one of the largest recorded.Thumbnail below :-239.7-grain baroque drop-shaped natural saltwater nacreous pearl
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What is the historic provenance associated with the pearl ?

According to the Christie’s auction catalogue, the pearl was part of the collection of Valda Virginia Vaughn Scott, the daughter of an English diplomat and a member of the prestigious Alessi family. Her Alessi grandfather and great-grandfather were respectively a Major in the Royal Malta Regiment and the Malta Crown Advocate, whose ancestors in turn descended from the Maltese nobleman, the Marquis di Taflia.

What role does provenance play in the valuation of a pearl ?

Provenance plays a very significant role in deciding the value of a pearl, especially at competitive auctions. Normally auction houses set their lower and upper pre-sale estimates in according with past auction performances, and prevailing market values, the reserve price falling somewhere between the two. Provenance is not normally taken into consideration, while setting the pre-sale estimates. The auction house usually allow the bidders to set a value on the provenance of an article that is put up for sale. In the case of the Valda Virginia Pearl, provenance had only played a marginal role in deciding the final price, as it was sold for only US $4,500 above the upper pre-sale estimate. However,there are instances when provenance had enhanced the value of a lot 3-4 times or more than the upper pre-sale estimate. Take for instance the sale of the La Peregrina pearl at the December 13, 2011, Christie’s New York Auction, as part of the sale of the jewelry collection that belonged to the Hollywood legend, late Elizabeth Taylor, appropriately referred to as the “Crown Jewels of Hollywood.” The pearl had a 500-year old historic provenance dating back to the early 16th-century, and came to be owned by the undisputed Queen of Hollywood, the legendary Elizabeth Taylor, being a Valentine day gift by her husband Richard Burton, who purchased it at a London Sotheby’s auction in 1969 for US $37,000. The auction house set a pre-sale estimate of US $2 million to $3 million on the La Peregrina pearl and the two-strand pearl, ruby and diamond necklace from which it was suspended as a pendant. This value represented only the current market value of the pearl, without taking into consideration the provenance of the pearl. However, at the auction held at the New York Rockefeller Plaza on December 13, 2011, the pearl and the necklace realized a very much enhanced price of US $11,842,500, which was 6 times the lower pre-sale estimate and 4 times the upper pre-sale estimate. The rather disproportionate enhancement of the upper pre-sale estimate by almost US $9 million, represents the value addition caused by the historic provenance. Such enormous value additions were seen for most of Elizabeth Taylor’s iconic pieces of jewels, such as the Krupp diamond, the Taj Mahal diamond etc. that went under the hammer on the first day of the auction, and the trend was repeated on the subsequent days from December 14-16, 2011, for her other fine jewels in the collection, as well her collection of fashion and accessories, haute couture, decorative arts and film memorabilia, and also the online auctions that was held between December 3-17. The total realized for the entire sale was nearly US $157 million, which was several times above the projected estimate, and some individual items sold for 5 or 10 times or even 50 times the pre-sale estimate. The sale set a world record for the most valuable sale of jewelry in auction history.Some of the other auctions that generated great public enthusiasm, and in which provenance enhanced prices of lots by multiple fold, were the Christie’s London auctions of Princess Margaret’s Jewelry and Faberge Collection, that was held on June 13 14, 2006 and realized US $25 million; Christie’s New York, June 2-4, 2004 auction of the Doris Duke Collection, that garnered US $27.7 million; Christie’s Geneva November 13, 1995 sale of the Jewels of Princess Salima Aga Khan that recorded total sales of US $27.8 million and the 1987 sale of the Duchess of Windsor Collection by Sotheby’s London, which raised US $53.5 million.

Thanks for the detailed reply on the role played by provenance in the valuation of a pearl.

What oyster species could possibly have produced this large pearl ?

This is an interesting question, but the answer to it lies in knowing the approximate period during which the baroque drop-shaped pearl was discovered. The 59.92-carat (239.7 grains), natural, saltwater pearl is allocated lot no. 79, at the Christie’s Dubai Sale 7934 held on April 20, 2011. Notes accompanying the lot on the historic provenance of the pearl does not specify the date/year of designing the pearl necklace or when it came into the possession of Valda Virginia Vaughn Scott. However, certain design features of the necklace, such as the use of circular-cut diamonds, spectacle-set diamond chain, and the type of metal used on the necklace might give an indication as to the possible period of origin of the necklace. Old circular-cut also known as Old brilliant-cut or Old European-cut was the forerunner of the modern brilliant-cut developed by Marcel Tolkowsky in 1919. This cut was popular during the 19th-century and early 20th-century. Spectacle-setting is a type of bezel setting used for circular/round cut gemstones/diamonds, in which a vertical strip of metal encircling the stone and soldered to the metal base is used to secure the stone firmly by bending the bezel over the edge of the stone. Spectacle-set diamond chains, appearing somewhat like a bead-chains interspersed by short chain lengths was popular during the Belle Epoque period. The metal used in the necklace is also not known, but is a white metal like silver or platinum. Platinum was first introduced as a metal for jewelry making during the Belle Epoque period that enabled the creation of invisible, lightweight settings that made use of minimum of metal to hold gemstones. White on white color scheme for jewelry settings became very popular during this period, that made use of white diamonds and pearls on platinum, that enhanced their radiance. Hence all available evidence point to the period of design of the spectacle-set diamond chain necklace with the baroque drop-shaped pearl hanging as a pendant from a foliate surmount, as the Belle Epoque period also known as the Edwardian period, that lasted from 1901 to 1915. Thus, we can assume that the baroque drop-shaped pearl was discovered either during the period 1901 to 1915, or sometime before that in the late 19th-century, probably after 1890. During this period the pearl oyster species that were being exploited for white natural saltwater pearls were the Putative species complex Pinctada radiata/fucata/martensi/imbricata in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mannar, and the species Pinctada maxima (silver-lipped pearl oyster) in countries with a shoreline in the South China Sea, from China in the north to Australia in the South, where there was a thriving mother-of-pearl collection industry, based in Broome, Northwest Australia, feeding the world’s shell-button industry.Hence, the baroque drop-shaped pearl originated either from the Pinctada radiata species complex or from Pinctada maxima.

It is said that the baroque drop-shaped pearl is the largest natural pearl ever offered for sale at Christie’s Dubai. The pearl is also said to be among the largest recorded. Do you have any information on the veracity of this statement ?

The 239.7-grain baroque drop-shaped natural saltwater pearl is most certainly the largest natural pearl ever offered for sale at Christie’s Dubai auctions, ever since the reputed auction house set up their office at the Dubai International financial Center, and their Salesroom and Viewing Center at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel in the year 2006, and conducted their first International Art Auctions in May 2006, and subsequently their first Jewels Watches Sale in January 2007. The 239.7-grain Valda Virginia Scott Pearl occupies the 17th-position in our list of Famous Nacreous and Non-Nacreous Single Pearls arranged in descending order of weights, as given on our webpage The Arco Valley Pearl. However, disregarding the cultured Paspaley Pearl, it occupies the 13th position if we consider only the nacreous pearls; the 9-th position considering only white, nacreous, saltwater pearls; 6th-position considering only white, nacreous, saltwater, baroque pearls;and the 3rd-position considering white nacreous, saltwater, baroque drop-shaped pearls, after the 1,800-grain Hope Pearl and the 510-grain Imperial Hong Kong Pearl.Hence, to say that the pearl is among the largest recorded, may not be too far from the actual facts available.

Any information about the buyer of this antique natural pearl and diamond necklace ?

The identity of the buyer has been withheld. However, according to David Warren, International Director of Christie’s Jewelry Department and Head of Jewelry Middle East, the successful buyer is from the Middle-eastern region, a traditional hot spot of the finest natural pearl enthusiasts.

As the Head of Jewelry Middle East of Christie’s, David Warren has said, the Middle Eastern region is indeed a traditional hot spot of the finest natural pearl enthusiasts. This is clearly brought out by the Christie’s auction results of the Dubai sales since the year 2007. At the first Christie’s Dubai sale in January 2007, a natural Melo pearl weighing 195.82 carats sold for US $251,200, which was $51,200 above the upper pre-sale estimate of $200,000. In the April 2008, Christie’s Dubai sale, 15 lots of natural pearl jewelry were offered at the auctions, and 7 lots realized prices in excess of the upper pre-sale estimates, while the remaining 8 lots sold within the range of the lower and upper estimates, indicating the strong auction market for natural pearls and jewelry incorporating such pearls at the Dubai venue. One of these lots (Lot 147), Umm Kulthum’s nine-row “Satlada” type necklace fetched a record price of US $1,385,000, which was 11 times the upper pre-sale estimate of $120,000 and 17times the lower pre-sale estimate of $80,000. The price realized was undoubtedly linked to its historic provenance and ownership by the legendary Arab female singer of the Middle East, Umm Kulthum. Lot 178, the last natural pearl jewelry lot offered for sale, a superb four-row natural pearl and diamond necklace, registered a price of US $1,743,400 which was within the pre-sale estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,200,000.At the October 2008, Christie’s Jewels Watches Sale in Dubai, only three lots of natural pearl incorporated jewelry were offered for sale, and all three of them sold within the pre-sale estimated range.In April 2009, six natural pearl lots were offered for sale at the Christie’s Jewels Watches Dubai sale - Lot Nos, 68,75, 99, 104,108 and 109. Out of this, Lots 75, 99, 104 and 108 registered prices above the upper pre-sale estimate; Lot 75 - Umm Kulthum’s Multi-strand Seed Pearl and Turquoise Necklace recording a price of US $80,500 which was $55,500 above the pre-sale estimate of $25,000. Lots 68 and 109 sold within the estimated range.In October, 2009, out of 136 lots of jewels and watches on offer at the Christie’s Dubai auctions, only Lot 129, A Pair of Natural Pearl and Diamond Ear Pendants, had natural pearls incorporated in it and sold for US $80,500,which was within the presale estimate of $65,000 to $85,000.In April, 2010, out of 193 lots of watches and jewels on offer, three lots 89, 90 and 91 were natural pearl incorporated jewelry, and all three of them sold above the upper presale estimate, Lot 91, a three-strand natural pearl necklace selling for $146,500,which was $76,500 above the upper estimate of $70,000. In October, 2010, out of 161 lots on offer, two lots, 76 and 87, consisting of natural pearls sold for $92,500 and $722,500 respectively, which was $27,500 and $472,500 above the presale estimates of $65,000 and $250,000. Lot 87 was the 224.3-carat yellowish-orange Melo pearl, the 2nd largest melo pearl recorded and the 9th to appear at an auction. The price of $722,500 was the highest recorded for any single melo pearl at an auction. In April, 2011, out of 98 lots on sale only one lot - lot 79 - was a natural pearl incorporated jewel, the 239.7-grain natural baroque drop-shaped pearl pendant necklace, the subject that generated this discussion, and sold for $254,500, which was $4,500 above the upper estimate of $250,000.From the above discussion it is evident that whenever lots of jewelry come up for sale at the Christie’s Dubai auctions,that incorporate natural pearls, there is keen bidding by Middle Eastern pearl enthusiasts, who would go out of the way in staking their claims, with a view of owning such rare natural pearl creations, in a world that is currently inundated with relatively cheap cultured pearls.

Thanks for the analysis of the performance of natural pearl incorporated jewelry at the Christie’s Dubai Venue. The Middle East has been a traditional source of natural pearls for several millennia in history. Could this be one of the reasons for the renewed interest generated in these beauties of nature ?

Certainly Mike, this is undoubtedly the prime factor that motivates the pearl enthusiasts of the Persian Gulf to invest heavily in acquiring such rare historic pearls, whenever they make their occasional appearances at public auctions. Nostalgia seems to play a part in their decisions. The Arab pearl enthusiasts in acquiring such historic natural pearls, are fully aware that some of these pearls might have originated in the Persian Gulf itself, one of the most ancient sources of pearls in the world, and their forefathers might have been directly involved in their harvesting from the depths of the ocean, and perhaps might have even handled them with their own hands.