Largest Known Near-Round Natural Saltwater Pearl Will Auction at Rago on December 7

  • LAMBERTVILLE, New Jersey
  • /
  • November 05, 2014

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Largest Known Near-Round Natural White Saltwater Pearl, The Putilov Pearl Brooch, Estimate $100,000+
Rago Arts and Auction Center

On December 7, 2014, Rago Arts and Auction Center will auction the largest near-round natural saltwater pearl discovered to date. It is the central element of a brooch described by Sarah Churgin, who directs the Jewelry department at Rago, as “a pearl the size of a quail egg on a cracker of diamonds”. We now refer to it as the Putilov Pearl Brooch.

About the Putilov Pearl Brooch

GIA Pearl Identification Report #2165503254 describes the Putilov pearl as a drilled natural saltwater pearl of the Pinctada species of oyster measuring 19.08 x 18.88 x 16.50mm. with no indication of treatment; near-round; white body color; orient overtone. The pearl is full-drilled with nacreous plugs, one now detached.

The 19th century oval brooch onto which the pearl is set measures 2" x 1 5/8". It is framed by 16 near colorless old mine cut diamonds , approximately  28 carats total weight, in cutback collets, and by numerous smaller rose cut diamonds set in silver topped gold.  Detachable pin findings orient either horizontally or vertically.  The frame bears the unrecognized scratched marks KAM and N677. It weighs 19.7 pennyweights.

History of the Putilov Pearl Brooch/Origin of the Name

Using family records and public research tools, Sarah Churgin and Katherine Van Dell, a jewelry specialist at Rago, have reconstructed the history of the Putilov Pearl Brooch back to the early 20th century.

Alexei (also written as Alexey, Aleksei and Alexis) Putilov, a Russian financier and industrialist, brought the brooch from Russia in the spring of 1918, crossing the Soviet-Finnish border and proceeding to Paris. Putilov had been a powerful man in Russia prior to the Revolution, connected in business and government circles, both in Tzarist Russia and Asia. His family founded the Putilov Metal Works Company, a major supplier of railway products for the Russian government and artillery for the Imperial Russian Army. Historians cite strikes at a Putilov mine in February of 1917 and a subsequent speech delivered at the mine by Lenin as events that contributed directly to the Russian Revolution. After the Revolution, Lenin himself signed a decree confiscating all Putilov's real and personal property. Putilov fled Russia. He resumed his banking career in Paris under a Gallicized name.

The consignor is the great grandchild of Putilov and his wife, Vera. Her surname is Anglicized. The brooch was inherited by her mother, who was born and reared in France and emigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s. It is family lore that this pearl was part of an earlier necklace.

The Putilov Pearl brooch did not come to the auction house directly. It arrived through the offices of an honest jeweler. The consignor brought him the brooch to raise family funds for elder care.  While he did not know the true value of the piece she placed in his hand, he saw that it was exceptional. Rather than take advantage, he directed them to Rago. Believing that the pearl was natural, the Rago jewelry department had it certified and then derived the provenance described.

The Prior Record Holder

The near-round natural saltwater pearl that was the largest on record, and now holds the title of second largest, sold at the British auction house of Woolley & Wallis on May 1st, 2014 for £811,000 (US $1,368,075) against a pre-sale estimate of £250,000 (US $419,000). It was accompanied by two lab reports. The first, issued by The Gem and Pearl Laboratory of London, states that the pearl measures 17.4 - 16.5mm. and is a natural saltwater pearl. The second lab report, from SSEF, Switzerland, states that the pearl measures 17.44 x 16.51mm.; weighs 33.147 cts. (132.59 grains); is roundish; half-drilled; white; and a natural saltwater pearl.

The product of this pearl's longest and shortest diameter is 287.93mm. squared. 

The product of the Putilov Pearl's longest and shortest diameter is 314.82mm. squared – approx. 8% larger than that of the pearl which sold at Woolley and Wallis. (Rago does not have the precise carat or grain weight of the Putlilov pearl as it has not been removed from the setting.)

A Prize for Serious Bidders

Rago is asking a $100,000 hold from any party interested in bidding on the Putilov Pearl Brooch. For more information about the brooch, to set an appointment or sign up to bid, please contact Sarah Churgin at 609.397.9374 or

The brooch sells as part of a three day weekend that includes silver, coins, fine and estate jewelry, furnishings, fine and decorative arts, featuring the collection of Mrs. Gray Davis Boone.


  • Catalogue online at as of November 17, 2014.
  • Printed catalogues: $20/3 for $40


Auction Dates

  • Friday, December 5, 11 a.m.: Silver/Coin – Jewelry (Session 1)
  • Saturday, December 6, 11 a.m.: Great Estates
  • Sunday, December 7, 11 a.m.: Jewelry, Couture, Object de Vertu


Auction Exhibition/Preview/Bidding

  • Saturday, November 29 through Wednesday, December 3, 12-5 p.m. and by appointment. Thursday, December 4, 12-7 p.m. Doors open at 9 a.m. on sale days.
  • Open House with guest Speaker, Benjamin Macklowe, "Art Nouveau: A Jewel in Every Medium", Tuesday, December 2. Reception at 5 p.m., presentation at 6 p.m. Please R.S.V.P. to or 609-397-9374 ext. 119.
  • Rago's is located midway between New York City and Philadelphia. Directions online at
  • Telephone, absentee, online bidding available for those unable to attend.

 About Rago Arts and Auction Center

Rago is a leading U.S. auction house with $30 million in sales in 2013. We serve thousands of sellers and buyers internationally with a singular blend of global reach and personal service. Rago holds auctions of 20th/21st c. design, fine art, decorative arts, furnishings, jewelry, militaria, coins and currency, Asian, historic ephemera, and ethnographic property.  A world-class venue through which to buy and sell, it offers valuations for personal property (from a single piece to collections and estates), appraisals, estate services, exhibitions and lectures in house and online. Rago is based in New Jersey, midway between Philadelphia and New York City.

Miriam Tucker
Rago Arts and Auction Center

Rago Arts and Auction Center
333 N. Main Street
Lambertville, New Jersey

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