The World's Most Famous Pearls

We’re not all about diamonds here at Laing, we also love pearls, which happen to be the birth stone of the month of June.

Pearls, unlike most gemstones, are formed by living organisms in the shell of an oyster. This makes each pearl completely unique, with huge variety in shape, size and colour.

June’s birthstone is known as the Queen of the Gems and has been adored for thousands of years, with Cleopatra, Anne Boleyn, Queens Elizabeth I and II, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Grace of Monaco among their most iconic fans.

And with such famous names having loved the gem, it’s no surprise that some of their pearls have become famous too, each with their own extraordinary story to tell.

La Peregrina

La Peregrina or ‘Pilgrim’ is a perfect pear-shaped pearl with a long and impressive history, first discovered in the 1500s in the Gulf of Panama by an African slave. At the time it was the largest pearl ever found, weighing an impressive 11.2g. It soon became a pearl of royalty, with Philip II of Spain gifting it to Mary I of England for their wedding, who wore it as a brooch. It was later returned to the crown jewels of Spain, and worn by various Spanish, French and Austrian royalty over the new few centuries. Via Napolean III of France, La Peregrina eventually made its way to England, where James Hamilton, Marquess and later Duke of Abercorn bought it for his wife Louisa.

The story goes that the weight of the pearl made it easy for it to fall from its necklace and go missing, getting lost in the sofas of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle! Fortunately it was large enough to always be found again, and in 1969 Richard Burton bought the pearl at auction for Elizabeth Taylor as a Valentine’s Day gift. She apparently continued the tradition of losing it, at one point finding it being chewed on by one of her puppies! Thankfully the pearl was undamaged, and to keep it safe, Elizabeth Taylor commissioned an incredible pearl, diamond and ruby necklace to showcase La Peregrina. This eventually sold at Christies in New York in 2011 for a record $11million.




La Peregrina

Cleopatra’s Pearl

If the puppy chewing on one of the most expensive pearls in the world sounds outlandish, the story of Cleopatra’s pearl is even more so! According to Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, after many days of lavish banquets, Cleopatra made a bet with Marc Anthony that she could throw a dinner worth a small fortune. Anthony was intrigued and the wager was laid down.

Cleopatra happened to own a pair of earrings containing two largest pearls ever to have been discovered at the time. At the end of yet another lavish feast, Cleopatra had her servants bring her a glass of vinegar, dropped one of her earrings into it, and, when the pearl had dissolved, swallowed it down! Scholars and historians has questioned the validity of this account, but it certainly makes a great story. Although we would much rather wear our pearls that drink them!

After Cleopatra’s death, the remaining pearl was cut in two and used as earrings for the statue of Venus in the Pantheon in Rome. The pearls are estimated to have been worth $28.5million in today’s money.


  Cleopatra's Pearl

The Marilyn Monroe Pearl Necklace

When Marilyn Monroe married baseball star Joe DiMggio in 1954, they went to Japan on their honeymoon, and met the inventor the cultured pearl, Kokichi Mikimoto. DiMaggio bought from him a 16” pearl necklace that Mikimoto had created himself from 44 of almost perfectly matched akoya pearls, as a wedding gift for Monroe. Such as strand was the height of fashion at the time, and the uniformity of the pearls made this example all the more special.

Although the marriage lasted just 9 months, Monroe’s love for the necklace lasted much longer (she wore them to the divorce hearing as a symbol of her ongoing friendship with her soon to be ex-husband). It was one of the few pieces of jewellery that she truly treasured, and thought to be one of the few pieces she actually owned outright.

The necklace has made its way back to Mikimoto, and is now part of their travelling collection, often on display in museums and galleries around the world.

  Marilyn Monroe Pearl Necklace


Pearls have a special timeless elegance about them that will never go out of style. You can check out our range of pearl jewellery in store or online.








A message from Michael Laing OBE

Over the last 200 years, the Parkhouse name has become synonymous with luxury and quality. Parkhouse is also part of the Laing family and we feel that the time is right to share the values and vision under one name.

As a result, Parkhouse will be changing it's name to Laing in the near future. Don't worry though, we will still be stocking the same sparkling jewellery and finest Swiss watches!

Our Southampton store is also on the move! We are re-locating to Westquay in September 2017


See the full article about our brand change with a video message from Michael.

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