"What are the most expensive pearls in the world?" is a question that someone asked at my last pearl talk. As we know, expense is a product of various market forces, most notably, supply and demand. Tahitian black pearls only come from a certain type of mollusk making its harvest smaller than those of Chinese freshwater pearls. People tend to appreciate and desire these pearls, further driving up the prices. But, there was a time when they were in shorter supply but not really wanted, so they were still not very expensive.
There have been many remarkable sales and auctions of pearls... stunning pieces of various beauty, coloring and size. I love reading and studying the value placed on pearls. It further reconfirms how truly precious these gems are!
I told the woman in the audience, I think the most expensive type of pearls are the ones whose variety is revered but their supply is limited. Take for instance gray pearls. Natural pearls are extremely precious gems, especially when they are big, beautiful and round. The majority of natural pearls are white, as are the majority of cultured pearls. Gray pearls are very rare and a full strand of natural, beautiful gray pearls is almost unheard of. Almost.
Meet the Cowdray Pearls..
These pearls were in the collection of Viscountess Cowdray, Lady Pearson (1860-1932). They were placed for auction at Sotheby’s London in 1937, with a note stating that “there is probably no finer collection of such pearls in existence.”
In 2012 they were auctioned at Christie's Important Jewels auction in London. Estimated at $280,000-$350,000, Christie's set a record price on natural gray pearls. They sold for stunning $3.3 million. Wow.
But, lets talk about a serious return on investment. These pearls were auctioned, once again, just a few days ago at Sotheby's Hong Kong. They were purchased by a Hong Kong investor for $5.3 million. And this was really towards the low end of what was expected!
So, what are the most expensive pearls in the world? Let's look at another gray pearl...
This Wrightsman pearl brooch was auctioned for $1.9 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2012. It was named for its owner, Jayne Wrightsman. At the time it broke records for being the most expensive gray pearl ever sold at auction.
If we are still looking at types of pearls, there is a strong case for the high value of natural gray pearls. They may not be the most expensive pearls in the world, but they come pretty darn close!