It was found off the coast of Panama, nacreous and irresistible, glowing with a soft, pale temptation. It was shaped like a tear, weeping into the ocean, the birthplace of currents, the blueprint of tides.
Gems, like women, will make men sentimental. They give their treasures nicknames – small proofs of private and affectionate ownership. At this time, Spain was mistress to the New World, showing her love in unwanted Catholicism and demanding payment in land, in people, in valuables. By the time this grieving pearl had become part of the Spanish Crown Jewels, it had already acquired the name 'La Peregrina' – 'The Pilgrim', 'The Wanderer'.
In 1554, Philip, future king of Spain, was betrothed to a sad queen. England's Mary I - thin-lipped, jaws tightly muscled, graceless and intolerant - had never met Philip. But she stroked the painted cheek of his portrait and waited with a doomed devotion for her Spanish lover across the Atlantic.
Philip arrived in England with chests of presents for Mary and the ladies-in-waiting who followed her silently on hidden footsteps. There were bolts of satin – in coiled, simmering colors – yards of silver and gold tissue; black and white lace; linen veils; and gems from the empty veins of the New World. Amongst these royal baubles was La Peregrina, wrapped in velvet perhaps, to protect its sublime light; the moon that slept within its layers.
Mary loved the pilgrim that had traveled to far to reach her. She ordered her jewelers to create a setting worthy of her egg-sized pearl. They brought to her a brooch of diamonds, surrounded by a filigree that swarmed like a golden vine. And La Peregrina dangled like a planet beneath that glittering sky.
She wore it always. It lay across her flattened breast, against the wooden corset. Beneath it Mary's heart beat, an undesired spark kept alive in its lonely chamber. But La Peregrina was round and nubile – a ripe fruit blooming from a barren tree.