History of the June Pearl Birthstone
by Leslie Patrick
The glowing orb of iridescence that is the pearl has enchanted women for centuries. Cleopatra drank hers in vinegar, Mary Queen of Scots strung hers in a rosary and Napoleon’s second wife, Empress Marie Louise, preferred her pearls ensconced in a golden tiara. However you choose to wear June’s magnificent birthstone, you will feel like royalty. After all, the resplendent pearl is known as the queen of gems and the gem of queens.
Below, the stories of three of history’s most distinctive pearls to put you in an aristocratic state of mind:
The Pearl of Lao-Tze
Undoubtedly the largest pearl in the world, the Pearl of Lao-Tze weighs a staggering 14 pounds. Imagine lugging that thing around your neck! Found by a Filipino diver off the Coast of Palawan Island in 1934, the pearl formed in a clam so large that the shell is often used by Filipino churches as a baptismal font. Now worth over $40,000,000, the Pearl of Lao-Tzu is unique not only due to its size, but the fact that it is a non-nacreous pearl, meaning it lacks the iridescent sheen other pearls are so prized for.
The Imperial Hong Kong Pearl
Weighing in at 25.5 grams, the Imperial Hong Kong Pearl, also known as the Miracle of the Sea, was found off the southern coast of China late in the 19th century, and became the most prized possession of Empress Tz’u-Hsi. When she died in 1908, the massive pearl was placed in her mouth. According to Chinese imperial custom, this was thought to ward off decomposition of the body. Twenty years later, her tomb was raided, and robbers took the plunder–including the Miracle of the Sea–to Hong Kong where an American pearl company eventually purchased it. Today, the Imperial Hong Kong Pearl is set in a stunning diamond and platinum pendant.
The Queen Pearl
Found near the coast of New Jersey in 1857, the Queen Pearl sparked a “pearl rush” that nearly led to the eradication of mussels in the stream where it was discovered. The 4.65 gram pink pearl was purchased by the famed Tiffany & Co., then sold to Empress Eugenie de Montijo, Queen Consort of Emperor Napoleon III. It is said she had a penchant for splendid jewels, and acquired quite the collection. Strangely, she gifted the pearl to her dentist, who bequeathed it to the University of Pennsylvania dental school. Mysteriously, the pearl became lost, and its whereabouts are disputed to this day.