The Cowdray pearls, arguably the most important single strand of grey natural pearls in the world, is up for auction.
By Åse Anderson
Sotheby’s jewellery auction next month sees the return of the legendary Cowdray pearls, only three years after setting a new world record for natural grey pearls.
Restrung to its original design of 42 pearls, the necklace is expected to fetch between $4.5-7million when it goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s Cowdray pearls auction in Hong Kong on 7 October. If it achieves a price at the upper end of the estimate - which is not inconceivable given the bidding frenzy that natural pearls have attracted of late - the necklace will have more than doubled its value since 2012 when it sold for $3.3million at Christie’s.
When the Cowdray pearls first appeared at auction in 1937 at Sotheby’s London, the catalogue stated: “There is probably no finer collection of such pearls in existence.” This assertion rings even more true today as prices for natural pearls have soared in recent years. The grey varieties are particularly rare, as saltwater oysters only produce between one to three pearls at a time, and these are usually white or cream in colour. In 2012, Sotheby’s New York set a world record for a single natural grey pearl at $1.9 million, and here is a jewel composed of 42 uniformly shaped pearls ranging in lustrous colours from brown to grey with overtones of pink, purple and green.
The historic provenance of these record-breaking pearls only adds to their appeal. Formerly in the collection of Viscountess Cowdray, who died in 1932, the pearls were strung and mounted by Cartier. At some point, the pearls were made into a 38-pearl necklace and a pair of earrings, but after the 2012 auction, they were restrung to its original design of 42 pearls. While the earrings stayed in the Cowdray family at the time of the 1937 auction, they are included in the upcoming Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels & Jadeite Sale.
“We are extremely honoured to offer the Cowdray pearls in Sotheby’s upcoming autumn sale,” said Quek Chin Yeow, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and chairman of international jewellery, Asia. “Natural saltwater pearls are rarely seen at auctions and the present necklace, strung with 42 superb grey pearls and of aristocratic provenance, is arguably the greatest of its kind in existence. This is an extraordinary collecting opportunity for pearl and jewellery connoisseurs around the world.”