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Circa 1920 pearl pendant garners $3.3M, sets record

By Michelle Graff

April 30, 2014

Suspended from this diamond pendant are two drop-shaped slightly brownish gray natural saltwater pearls. A buyer paid $3.3 million (including buyer’s premium) for the piece Monday at Doyle New York.

New York--Auction house Doyle New York sold a pendant with two matching pearls for $3.3 million Monday, breaking the previous world record for a pair of natural pearls set at Sotheby’s last year.

An anonymous buyer bought the pendant via telephone, paying a price that blew away the highest pre-sale estimate, which was $200,000.

The pendant features two drop-shaped slightly brownish gray natural saltwater pearls that are approximately 12.90 to 12.95 by 23.85 mm and 12.90 to 13.05 by 22.45 mm in size.

The pearls have no indication of artificial color modification, according to report from the Swiss Gemmological Institute, or SSEF, that accompanies the piece. Both are said to be “overall clean and smooth” with very good luster. An SSEF appendix letter states that finding a matching pair of pearls of this size and quality is very rare, and that this pair “can be considered a very exceptional treasure of nature.”

The pearls are topped by a pair of silver and rose-cut diamond caps suspended from a loop set with 23 old-mine cut diamonds, H to I color and VS to SI clarity, totaling 2 carats.

Ann Lange, senior vice president and director of the jewelry department at Doyle, said while the pearls and their rose-cut diamond caps are from the 19th century, likely 1850 or earlier, the pendant came later, around 1920.

She said while officials at the auction house knew the pendant would well exceed its highest estimate of $200,000--following the interest shown in the piece over the weekend, they thought it would sell for as much as $2 million--they were not expecting the $3 million-plus price they got.

She attributes to the record-setting sale to the quality of the pearls, which are a beautiful and unusual color, fully round in the back, and clean with the thick and satiny skin desirous for natural pearls.

Louis Webre, senior vice president of marketing and media at Doyle, notes that the sale of the pearl pair on Monday is the third time the record for a pair of natural pearls has been broken since 2011. That year, a pair of pearls that belonged to the late Elizabeth Taylor sold for $1.99 million during the record-setting auction of her jewelry at Christie’s.

Last year, Sotheby’s Geneva sold a pair of natural pearls from the collection of Gina Lollobrigida for $2.4 million, a figure that was topped by the piece sold Monday by Doyle.

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“The price for natural pearls seems to be skyrocketing,” Webre said.

Accompanying the $3.3 million pearl pendant is a note connecting the pearls to Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, whose jewels were sold at a 12-day auction at the Louvre in 1887 following her husband’s fall. Lange noted that before they were suspended from the pendant, the pair of pearls could have been earrings or even a necklace.

After being brought to the United States, the pearls were passed down through the family of George Crocker (1856-1909), the son of Central Pacific Railroad founder Charles Crocker, whose fortune totaled $300 to $400 million when he died in 1888. The pearls also were passed through the family of Henry Huttleston Rogers (1840-1909), an American industrialist who made his money in Standard Oil and the Virginia Railroad.

Rogers’ son, Henry Rogers Benjamin, acquired the pearls in 1925 and eventually gave them to his daughter Anne Rogers Benjamin, who wore them at her debut in 1941 at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.

Later, Mrs. Robert R. Barry gave the pearls to her daughter, Mrs. Lewis A. Shea, who consigned them to Doyle New York for sale.