La Peregrina, the natural 50.56 ct. pear-shape pearl that sold for a record $11.8 million at Christie’s Dec. 13 sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry, nearly quadrupled its estimate for one reason and one reason alone: its incredible provenance. Discovered early in the 16th century in the Gulf of Panama by a slave who later won his freedom by bringing the pearl to the Spanish court, the gem graced the necks of Mary Tudor of England and Queens Margarita and Isabella of Spain, among others, before ending up at Sotheby’s in 1969, when Ward Landrigan, owner of Verdura and then head of Sotheby’s jewelry department, sold it to Richard Burton for a mere $37,000. Landrigan flew from New York City to Las Vegas to deliver La Peregrina, a gift for Taylor’s 37th birthday, to the couple at Caesars Palace only to find them “partying, drinking Salty Dogs,” he recalls. “I bet it wasn’t 20 minutes before Elizabeth came out of the bathroom saying she’d lost it. We all got down on our hands and knees on the pink shag carpet to look for it.” They found one of Taylor’s two Lhasa Apsos crunching on the pearl. “I thought, 400 years of history—gone,” Landrigan says. When the bauble was retrieved, there were no discernible marks on it, but the too-good-to-be-true tale of its fantastic voyage through history had just gotten a little better.
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