A pearl in the shape of a sleeping lion, assumed to have formed in Chinese waters in the first half of the 18th century and now classified as the largest pearl found in natural fresh water, will be auctioned in The Hague on May 31, the Dutch auction house Venduehuis announced Thursday.
Named after its striking natural shape, the Sleeping Lion Pearl measures approximately 70 by 43 by 39 mm and weighs 118.65 grams, according to England's Journal of Gemmology which classifies it as the largest freshwater pearl in the world, Venduehuis said.
The Pearl also bears an interesting Chinese-Dutch history, according to Venduehuis. Assumed to have formed in the first half of the eighteenth century in Chinese waters, possibly in the Pearl River, the Sleeping Lion Pearl was shipped to Batavia (former name for Jakarta, Indonesia) by a Dutch merchant of the Dutch East India Company (VOC in Dutch) in around 1765. There, Hendrik Coenraad Sander, the VOC's accountant, became the first European to own the pearl.
After Sander passed away, the pearl was auctioned off in Amsterdam in 1778 and acquired by Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. The Sleeping Lion Pearl was exhibited in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg until 1796.
In 1865, goldsmith Lodewijk Willem van Kooten, who was working in Rome for the Italian court jeweller Castellani at the time, bought the pearl. In 1867, Van Kooten returned to Amsterdam and for four generations, this pearl remained in the possession of this famous Dutch family of jewellers.
The Amsterdam Pearl Society bought the pearl in 1979, intending to research it and trace its history. After almost 40 years, the society is finally offering to auction the pearl.
The Sleeping Lion Pearl has an estimated value of between 340,000 and 540,000 euros (404,415 and 637,542 U.S. dollars).