The world's largest known freshwater pearl, which once belonged to Catherine the Great, will go on sale in the Netherlands later this month, the auctioneers announced Thursday.
Known as the Sleeping Lion pearl due to its distinctive shape, the pearl was likely formed in the first half of the 18th century in Chinese waters, possibly even the Pearl River.
Auction house Venduehuis said the jewel weighs some 120 grams and is almost seven centimeters long making it one of the three largest known pearls in the world. It has an estimated value of between 340,000 and 540,000 euros ($400,000 to $637,000).
Around 1765, the pearl was shipped to Batavia, now known as Jakarta, by a Dutch merchant of the United East Indies Company. It was there that it came into ownership of the company's accountant, Hendrik Coenraad Sander.
"After Sander passed away, the pearl was auctioned off in Amsterdam in 1778 and acquired by Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia," the auction house said in a statement.
Catherine had the pearl displayed in the Hermitage in St Petersburg until 1796. In the turbulent years that followed her death, the pearl vanished from China and surfaced again in Poland,
After more adventures, it was bought in 1865 by a Dutch goldsmith and remained in his family's possession for four generations, before the "Amsterdam Pearl Society bought the pearl in 1979 intending to research it and trace its history," the auctioneers said.
The society is now putting the pearl, and its custom-made copper box, up for sale at the auction on May 31 in The Hague.