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Largest freshwater pearl fetches €320,000

June 1, 2018

The oddly shaped, world's largest freshwater pearl has been sold at public auction for the first time in more than 200 years. It was once owned by Catherine the Great of Russia.

Sleeping Lion Pearl
Image: Reuters/Y. Herman

An auction house in the Netherlands sold the 7-centimeter (about 2.7 inches) pearl for €320,000 ($374,000) on Thursday to a Japanese trader. It had been valued at between €340,000 to €540,000 by auction house Venduehuis. 

It weighs about 120 grams (some 4.2 ounces) or in an imperial unit of measurement based on grains of barley and wheat —­ 2,373 grains, or 578 carats.

The largest known freshwater pearl in the world, and one of the world's three largest pearls of any kind, the Sleeping Lion is so named because of its irregular shape. 

Pearl expert Hanco Zwaan said the pearl is unique not just because of its size but also because it is a "natural, blister pearl" formed "by a mollusk somewhere in a river or a lake" whereas most pearls seen today are cultured, created by human intervention. 

From China in the 1700s

It was probably formed in the early 1700s in China, perhaps the Pearl River. In 1765 it was shipped by a Dutch merchant to Batavia (present day Jakarta) before being auctioned in Amsterdam thirteen years later and acquired by Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.

Catherine displayed the pearl in St Petersburg's Hermitage until 1796. After she died, the pearl vanished before turning up in Poland and eventually being bought by a Dutch goldsmith in 1865. It stayed in the same family ownership for four generations before being bought by the Amsterdam Pearl Society in 1979, who studied its origins and form.

jm/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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