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Dame Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) has not been constant with husbands but the one affair which has remained so nearly all her life is her love of jewelry.

Some of her husbands indulged her in this passion. The man she considered the love of her life and whom she married twice (1964 and 1975, husband #5 and 6) was the Welsh actor Richard Burton (1925-1984). He often gave her spectacular jewelry gifts but not just any expensive trinket - pieces with real history and provenance.

Burton gave her a polished and uncut Mughal diamond cabochon pendant (see my past post : The Jewels and Jewelry Obsession of Shah Jahan) which once belonged to the builder of the Taj Mahal. He jokingly told her he would have bought the Taj Mahal but it was too big to move so this fabulous piece of jewelry would have to do.

The above picture shows her wearing the La Peregrina Pearl which is the large, totally natural drop pearl gracing the end of the pendant. Burton bought it at auction for $37,000 in January 1969 and gave it to her as a Valentine's gift that same year.

This historic pearl was supposedly found in Panama in the 1500's by a slave who gained his freedom because of it. This pearl with its 500 years of history, is well named for "peregrina" comes from the Latin peregrinatus which means to travel or wander.

Shortly after it was found, the Spanish Royal family acquired it. The bauble was then given to Mary I of England (1516-1568) by Phillip II of Spain as a wedding gift. Mary Tudor (left) was the eldest daughter of Henry the VIII by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry, as you know, moved mountains to divorce the Catholic Catherine in order to marry his new hottie, Anne Boleyn. The portrait of Mary Tudor on the left shows her wearing the pearl but in a different setting.

When Mary ascended the throne after her brother (Henry's son by wife #3, Jane Seymour, who died in his teens), she brutally dragged England back into the Catholic fold, earning her the nickname, Bloody Mary.

At 37, she needed to marry and produce an heir, preferably a Catholic one. She fell in love with Phillip II of Spain when she saw his portrait. Alas Phillip did not feel the same way about her. He reputedly cursed the artists of her portraits for exaggerating her looks. There were no heirs from this union. Her younger sister became Elizabeth I.

Other past owners of the La Peregrina include Spanish Queens Margarita and Isabel in the 1600's who can both be seeing wearing the pearl in their portraits here. Such portraits provide documentation of ownership. The Bonaparte family also possessed it in the 1800's.

Elizabeth Taylor wrote of her sheer delight on receiving this amazing gift and the panic and horror when it went missing soon after. You can read an excerpt from her book here which recounts the incident and her subsequent relief when it was safely retrieved from the mouth of one of their pet small dogs. It took her a week to sum up the courage to tell Burton of the mishap!

When Burton bought the necklace, the pearl was suspended on a tiny diamond bail from a delicate pearl linked chain. The Burtons decided to have the necklace redesigned to its current form with diamonds, pearls and rubies by Cartier after they purchased a portrait of Queen Mary I which shows her wearing a much more elaborate necklace. You can see some resemblance between the Cartier redesign and Mary Tudor's necklace. They later donated the portrait to the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Elizabeth Taylor (2002) My Love Affair with Jewelry. Simon and Schuster.
National Portrait Gallery : Queen Mary I

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