June 1, 2017
Let's celebrate June's official birthstone with a close-up look at one of the most extraordinary natural pearls in the world. It stands two inches tall, weighs 450 carats and is the sibling of the world's most famous blue diamond. Introducing the Hope Pearl.
Back in the early part of the 19th century, a London banker named Henry Philip Hope amassed a collection of fabulous gems, including the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond and 150 natural pearls.
Hope's namesake pearl, which was once believed to be the largest natural saltwater baroque pearl in existence, exhibited an irregular pear shape and a unique coloration, grading from dark bronze to white. Experts believe the baroque specimen is a blister pearl, which grows attached to the mollusk's shell.
A natural pearl is extraordinarily rare and valuable because it is created by a mollusk totally by chance, without human intervention. A natural pearl forms when an irritant, such as a grain of sand, slips in between the mollusk’s shell and its mantle tissue. To protect itself from the irritant, the mollusk secretes layer upon layer of nacre, which is the iridescent material that eventually produces a pearl. Cultured pearls, by comparison, are grown under controlled conditions, where a bead is implanted in the body of the mollusk to stimulate the secretion of nacre.
The Hope Pearl is set as a pendant, with the smaller end capped with a crown of red enameled gold set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.
Both the Hope Diamond (purchased in 1824) and Hope Pearl (purchased between 1800 and 1810) were mentioned prominently in the 1839 publication titled "Catalogue of the Collection of Pearls and Precious Stones Formed by Henry Philip Hope, Esq." Hope, who never married, died that same year and a bitter legal battle ensued among his three nephews, who made claims on the estate. After 10 years, a settlement was reached and the jewels were split up. The pearl ended up in the South Kensington Museum for many years, and was sold at a Christie's auction in 1886 for £9,000 (about £1 million, or $1.29 million, in today's valuation).
The Hope Diamond and Hope Pearl remained apart for the next 156 years. But then, in 2005, the diamond and pearl siblings enjoyed a momentous reunion at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The Hope Diamond was already a resident of the National Gem and Mineral collection at the National Museum of Natural History.
The Hope Pearl was one of 12 extraordinary specimens featured in a six-month special exhibition called "The Allure of Pearls" in the Harry Winston Gallery of the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals. The Hope Pearl was loaned for the presentation by an unnamed collector from England.
Credits: Smithsonian/NMNH Photo Services.