Best Grey Pearls Go to Auction

HONG KONG -- Sotheby’s will present The Cowdray Pearls, one of the finest and rarest grey pearl necklaces known (estimate US$4.5–7 million), at its Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite Autumn Sale to take place on 7 October at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network recognize this sale as one of the great jewelry opportunities of all time.

Formerly in the collection of Viscountess Cowdray, Lady Pearson (1860 – 1932), a distinguished connoisseur and collector, this magnificent necklace strung and mounted by Cartier comprises 42 extremely rare and superb natural grey saltwater pearls well-matched in luster, shape and size, and is accompanied by a pair of natural grey pearl earrings, mounts by Cartier London.

The Cowdray Pearls will be exhibited in Singapore (12 – 13 September), Taipei (19 – 20 September), New York (24 September), London (28 September), Geneva (29 September) and the Middle East (date to be confirmed) prior to the auction in Hong Kong.

As noted by Swiss Gemological Institute (SSEF), the Cowdray Pearls is an “exceptional pearl necklace” that has been described to possess “extraordinary characteristics and merit special mention and appreciation”.

Their color subtly varies in different shades of grey and brown, partly combined with highly attractive rose, purple and green overtones. SSEF also notes that “apart from its aesthetic beauty and rarity, this pearl necklace is also exceptional due to its documented historic provenance”.

Historic Provenance

Formerly in the collection of Viscountess Cowdray, Lady Pearson (1860-1932), the Cowdray Pearls originally comprising 42 pearls had been re-strung to 38 pearls. Two pearls from this strand after 1937 were mounted into a pair of earrings by Cartier, which remained with the Cowdray family.

These and two other pearls originating from another antique jewel were recently re-strung back to its original number of 42 pearls -- to make it a superb layout of historic pearls.

The Cowdray Pearls first appeared at auction at Sotheby’s London in 1937, with a catalogue note stating that “there is probably no finer collection of such pearls in existence”.

Rare Gems

Grey pearls are extremely rare and their enigmatic beauty has inspired legends and reverence since ancient times in various cultures around the world.

Pearls are organic gems composed of innumerable layers of nacre produced by certain mollusks in the right conditions of the sea. Although cultured pearls are now common, natural pearls are a result of pure serendipity of Nature and extremely rare.

Unlike crystalline gemstones, pearls emerge as finished products, requiring no cutting or polishing to reveal their luster, each a unique reflection of the conditions under which it was born.

Saltwater pearls are formed in turbulent conditions in a diverse range of shapes and colours determined by the circumstances in which they grow.

Unlike freshwater mollusks, saltwater oysters produce only one to three pearls at a time, making saltwater pearls far less common and consequently more highly prized.

White or cream are the most common colours found in pearls, while other colours such as grey are much rarer and come in a great variety of shades and tones, rendering the formation of a collection of 42 grey pearls of such superb quality almost impossible.

Pearls & Tastemakers

Famous pearls can be found among the jewelry of social luminaries like the Countess Mona Bismarck, American socialite and founder of General Foods, Inc. Marjorie Merriweather Post, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton (with her Marie Antoinette pearls), Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor (with her famous ‘La Peregrina’ pearl); Italian screen siren Gina Lollobrigida (with her spectacular pearl pendant earrings sold at Sotheby’s Geneva in May 2013), and Opera Diva Maria Callas.

Pearls are also an essential part of Indian royal jewelry, such as the famous Baroda Pearls of the Maharaja and Maharani of Baroda.

The most famous and celebrated single strand of natural pearls, however, is probably the Kelly and Calvin Klein pearl necklace, formerly in the Duchess of Windsor collection.

Gifted by Queen Mary to King Edward, later the Duke of Windsor, this necklace was first sold in Sotheby’s historic sale of the Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor in Geneva in 1987, and again in 2007 at Sotheby’s New York from the Collection of Kelly and Calvin Klein for US$3.6 million.

Grey Pearls -- Auction Rarity

Fine grey pearl necklaces are extremely rare and seldom seen at auction.

The Cowdray Pearls is arguably the most important single strand of grey natural pearls ever to appear at auction. A most recent example of grey pearls at auction is the Wrightsman Pearl Brooch featuring a very fine single grey pearl from the collection of Mrs Charles Wrightsman, sold at Sotheby’s New York in December 2012 for US$1.9 million, setting a world record for a single natural grey pearl at auction.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video offers a primer on the five "S" components of grading a pearl. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DNCZw5kNKM&sns=em