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La Peregrina Pearl

In 1969, Richard Burton spent $37,000 (outbidding Prince Alfonso de Bourbon Asturias) to buy Elizabeth La Peregrina, a stunning pear shaped pearl, for her thirty-seventh birthday. “It used to belong to the Welsh,” Burton stated. “I thought it time they got it back.” Included in the purchase of La Peregrina was the pearl’s provenance, which is as fascinating as the pearl is rare and beautiful. A slave was set free after finding the pearl in the Gulf of Panama and bringing it to the Spanish court. It was later given to Mary Tudor of England upon her engagement to Spain’s Phillip II in 1554. Later, Queens Margarita and Isabel owned the pearl. Both were immortalized, wearing the pearl, in separate portraits by the revered sixteenth century painter, Valásques. And finally, in the early part of the 1800’s, the Bonapartes owned the pearl.

Elizabeth took cues on how she wanted the necklace set from a painting of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was wearing it as a choker. The pearl’s former setting can be seen in publicity shots for Elizabeth’s cameo in the 1969 film, Anne of the Thousand Days, and the new, more elaborate setting in the films Divorce His—Divorce Hers and A Little Night Music.

After reading The Bridge of Drina, a history of the events surrounding the famous bridge, Burton considered writing a similar history on the pearl and its owners, but unfortunately he never did. He also considered bidding on a four-hundred year old painting with the pearl adorning Queen Mary—but instead helped the National Art Collections Fund acquire it.

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