Sotheby’s will auction the Cowdray Pearls—a gray pearl necklace described by the Swiss Gemmological Institute as “exceptional” and meriting “special mention and appreciation”—at its Magnificent Jewels & Jadeite sale on Oct. 7 in Hong Kong.
The necklace contains 42 natural gray saltwater pearls strung and mounted by Cartier. The pearls are also significant historically. They were formerly in the collection of Viscountess Cowdray, Lady Pearson, a renowned jewelry collector in England who died in 1932. The pearls were first auctioned by Sotheby’s London in 1937. “There is probably no finer collection of pearls in existence,” said the catalog note.
The last time the pearls were at auction was at Christie’s London in 2012, where they sold for $3.35 million, a record price for natural gray pearls at auction. At the time of that sale, the strand held only 38 pearls. The original strand contained 42 pearls, but at some point while in possession of the Cowdray family, it was restrung to 38, and a pair of earrings with mounts by Cartier London was created from two of the removed pearls. After the 2012 auction, the necklace was restrung with two of the original pearls and two from another antique jewel to return it to its original design of 42 pearls. The earrings stayed in the Cowdray family at the time of the initial 1937 auction of the necklace, but are included with this lot.
“We are extremely honored to offer the Cowdray Pearls in Sotheby’s upcoming Autumn sale,” said Quek Chin Yeow, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and chairman of international jewellery, Asia. “Natural saltwater grey pearls are rarely seen at auction and the present necklace, strung with 42 superb gray pearls and of aristocratic provenance, is arguably the greatest of its kind in existence. This is an extraordinary collecting opportunity for pearl and jewelry connoisseurs around the world.”
The pearls are estimated to sell for $4.5 million–$7 million.