Mary Tudor pearl

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File:Maria Tudor1 crop.jpg
A closeup of the portrait of Queen Mary in 1554 by Antonis Mor. This detail shows the pearl hanging below the jewelled medallion of her necklace.

The Mary Tudor Pearl is a pearl that was bought in 2004 by its current owners, Bond Street, London jewellers Symbolic & Chase, and named the Pearl of Kuwait in recognition of the Persian Gulf waters in which many pearls have been found. It measures 258.12 grains (64.5 carats, 69.8 carats with its diamond cap) making it the third-largest (documented) well-formed natural pearl drop.[no citations needed here]

Pearls of this type have been owned by royal families or important members of the aristocracy. This was mentioned in the comments by Christie's auction house in the original auction catalogue entry:

"Unfortunately the provenance of this great pearl has been lost in the passage of time. However from its sheer size and beauty it is hard to imagine that it was not at some point one of the principal pearls in a royal collection… Comparatively few unrecorded pearls will weigh more than 200 grains, especially a well formed drop of good colour and fine skin, which must be considered one of nature’s rarest creations."[1]


Isabella of Portugal

Isabella of Portugal was the pearl's first-documented owner, which went on to be owned by Mary I of England. While the acquisition date remains undocumented, the pearl is included in the detailed inventories of her possessions collated after her death in 1539, where it can be identified by weight. The pearl is cited in the inventories of 1539–1542.[2]

"...una perla grande de pera pinjante engastada con dos rrosicas esmaltadas de blanco y rrusicler y con una argollica ençima de que se cuelga que pesa como esta con el oro tres ochavas y çinquenta y tres granos esta sola por si tasada en quinjentos ducados"


A large pear-shaped pendent pearl with a cap enameled pink and white in the shape of two roses with a small gold loop on top [from which it can be attached to a jewel or chain] which weighed as it was three-eighths and fifty-three grains, and is alone, valued at five hundred ducats.

The difference in weight of 1.85 modern carats between the Mary Tudor Pearl’s present weight of 64.5 carats, without its ornate 18th century diamond cap, and the weight of 62.65 carats (with its small gold cap) noted in Isabella’s 1539 inventory, may be due to the fact that in the sixteenth century weights were measured differently from today, or because of the greater accuracy of today’s digital scales. Due to its hygroscopic properties, organic gems like pearls are subject to changes in weight because of changing water volume.

The conversion applied there is the following: 1 ochava equals 3.5925 grams, and 1 grano or grain equals 0.04 grams. For larger weights: 1 marco or mark equals eight ounces and 1 ounce or onça equals eight grams.

Philip II of Spain

Philip II of Spain borrowed the pearl from his mother’s collection for his wedding to Maria Manuela of Portugal in 1543. She died in 1545 during childbirth and the pearl is included in her post mortem inventory. It was then returned to Empress Isabella’s jewels.[3]

Joanna of Austria

Joanna of Austria inherited the pearl in 1551 in accordance with her father Charles V's division of Empress Isabella’s estate. This is annotated in the left margin of the post mortem inventory located in the Archivo General de Simancas, Valladolid, Contaduria Mayor de Cuentas, 1a Epoca, Legajo 953: The Post Mortem Inventory of Empress Isabella of Portugal:

"una perla grande berrueca engastada con dos rossicas esmaltadas de blanco y rrosicler que peso asi como esta tres ochavas y çinquenta y tres granos tasada en quinhentos ducados esta se desengasto y se torno an engastar de oro menos diez y siete granos."

English translation:

'A large baroque pearl with a cap of two roses enameled white and pink which weighed as it was three eighths and fifty-three grains valued at 500 ducats […]'

The pearl is documented in Joanna's dowry inventory of 1553 showing that she took it with her to Portugal. No surviving inventory documents her belongings upon her return, but she returned with her possessions and the pearl is detailed at her death in 1574.

Philip II of Spain acquired the pearl from his sister Joanna upon her return from Portugal in May 1554, following the death of her husband John. Philip II was preparing his marriage to Mary I of England at that time and was conscious of her sentimentality regarding her mother’s Spanish heritage. He commissioned Italian court jeweller Jacopo da Trezzo to create a jewel incorporating the pearl along with the Grande table-cut diamond he had inherited from his mother.

Mary I of England

Mary I received the Habsburg jewel from Philip’s envoy and majordomo, the Marquis de las Navas, in June 1554. Charles V had already given her a smaller table-cut diamond after the marriage contract was signed in January 1554. It became the surmount for the incredible jewel by Trezzo in England. Andrés Muñoz, a Spanish servant to the household of Philip II was commissioned to document all he saw on the trip to England. Among these observations is a list of the jewels that Philip II sent to Mary Tudor.

"Las piezas que S. A. envio con el Marqués [de las Navas] para la Reina [Mary Tudor] son las siguientes: un diamante tabla á manera de rosa, hermosamente obrado: aprecióse en cincuenta mil ducados. Un collar de garganta, de diamantes de punta, que serian diez y ocho, muy por extremo labrados, demas d’estar puestos con linda gracia uno en pos de otro: aprecióse este collar en treinta mil ducados. Otro diamante grande con una perla que colgaba d’él para colgar de la frente. Estos dos piezas eran de las hermosas y galanas que podian ser ni hallarse en el Universo, segun delicadeza y parescer d’ellas fueron apreciados en veinte y cinco mil ducados" [Author’s italics].


The pieces [of jewellery] his Majesty sent with the Marquis [de las Navas] for the queen [Mary Tudor] are the following: a table diamond in the shape of a rose, beautifully worked: appreciated for a thousand ducats. A necklace [carcanet or collar de garganta], with eighteen point-cut diamonds well worked and beautifully placed together with grace one next to the other: this collar valued at 30,000 ducats. Another diamond from which a large pearl hung from the front. These two pieces were the most lovely and handsome ever made in the universe, and because of their delicacy and appearance were appreciated for 25,000 ducats.

Mary Tudor wore the jewel for her portrait by Habsburg court painter Anthonis Mor in November 1554, now in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid and then later that year by Hans Eworth, in a portrait that is in the National Portrait Gallery. Mary and Philip were married in 1554, the same year as these paintings.

These portraits have been mis-catalogued in the past as depicting the famous La Peregrina pearl (which weighs 204 grains), which has been repeatedly mistaken for the pearl that Mary Tudor was given by Philip II as an engagement gift in 1554. The Peregrina was only first recorded in 1579. It is first mentioned in the writings of the respected historian Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539–1616) in 1609 when he details the pearl being brought from Panama to Seville in 1579 by a Spanish courtier Diego de Temez (Teve or Teive) with the intention of selling it to Philip II.[4]

[…] contaré una que vi en Seville, año de 1579, que de una perla que trajo de Panamá un caballero que se deci a Diego de Témez, dedicado para el rey don Felipe segundo. Era la perla del tamaño y tale y manera de una buena cermeña. Tenia su cuello levantado hacia el pezón como tiene la cermeña, o la pera. Tambien tenia el huquecito de abajo en el asiento. El redondo, por lo más grueso sería como un huevo de paloma de los grandes. Venía de Indias apreciada en 12 mil pesos (que son 14,400 ducados). Giacomo de Trezzo, milanés, insigne artífice y lapidario de la magestad católica dijo que valía 14 mil y 30 mil y 50 mil, 100 mil ducados y que no tenía precio porque era una sola en el mundo. Y asi llamaron "la Peregrina". En Sevilla la iban a ver por cosa milagrosa.


"I will tell you of a pearl I saw in Seville, in the year 1579 which was a pearl brought from Panama by the courtier Diego de Témez [Teves] intended for the king Philip II. This pearl was of the shape, size and manner of a good muscadine [pear]. The upper part was elongated and shaped precisely like the top of a pear. The bottom had a small indentation, or hollow, as a pear. The body was large and well-rounded like a large pigeon’s egg. It came from the Indies valued at 12,000 pesos which is 14,400 ducats. The Milanese, Giacomo de Trezzo, distinguished goldsmith and lapidary, of his Catholic Majesty [Philip II], said the pearl was worth 14,000, 30,000, 50,000, even 100,000 ducats because it was priceless and incomparable in this world. So it came to be named "la Peregrina." In Seville people went to see it because it was a wondrous thing."

As per Philip II's testament, the pearl officially became part of the Spanish Crown Jewels in 1598, when it was paired with the Estanque diamond. The Estanque diamond was a large table-cut diamond that Philip II gave his third wife, Elisabeth of Valois, in 1560. At the time it was considered the largest, most perfect diamond in Europe. It was paired with the Peregrina pearl and prominently worn by Spanish Royals until its theft by Joseph Bonaparte in 1813. The design of the Estanque jewel, comprising a large pearl pendant suspended from a large table-cut diamond, has also added to the confusion due to its resemblance to the Habsburg creation. When Christie's auctioned Elizabeth Taylor's collection of jewellery on 15 December 2011 in New York, the Peregrina was carefully catalogued. Its first owner is cited as Philip II, the accompanying essays confirmed 1579 as its first documented apparition and Mary Tudor is not mentioned.

Return to Spain

Philip II received the pearl in 1558 upon the death of his wife as per her testament of 1557, where Mary I requested that the Grande jewel, and other jewels she had been given by Philip II and Charles V, be kept by him in memory of her. The pearl is then not recorded until after the death of Joanna of Austria, appearing in the auction records of her estate in 1574 as item No. 1 in the chapter 'Pearls, Rubies and Diamonds'.

"No 1. Una perla grande pera pinjante engastada con dos rrosas de oro esmaltadas de blanco de peso de tres hochavas y treynta y nueve granos y tiene una rreasa ençima de que se cuelga tasada en çiento y doze mill y quinientos mrs."


"No. 1. A large pear-shaped pendant pearl with two roses enameled white which weighed three eighths and thirty-nine grains and has a tiny loop on top for suspension which was valued at 112,500 maravedís."

The pearl was unsold in the auction and in 1581 Diego Ruiz purchased the Mary Tudor Pearl for 3,300 reales.

After this, the pearl disappeared from official records until 2004 when it was consigned by an undisclosed private family for auction at Christie’s London.

The pearl was part of the 'Pearls' exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which closed on 19 January 2014.[5]


  1. Important Jewellery, 24th November 2004. London: Christie's. p. 132, Lot 255. 
  2. Los Inventarios de Carlos V y la familia imperial, vol.2. Madrid. 2010. p. 1487. ISBN 978-84-937083-13. 
  3. The Post Mortem Inventory of Princess Maria of Portugal, 1545, Archivo General de Simancas, Valldolid
  4. de la Vega, Inca Garcilaso (1991). Aranibar, Carlos. ed. Comentarios Reales de los Incas. vol. 2. Lima. p. 551. 
  5. Pearls, Beatriz Chadour-Sampson with Hubert Bari, V&A publishing. P72-73. ISBN 978-1-85177-755-6