Eighty-five years ago this month, the largest pearl ever discovered – the legendary Pearl of Allah – was found in the Palawan Sea.
The discovery in June, 1934, was made at Palawan’s Brook’s Point. The massive specimen measured 9.4 inches in diameter and weighed 6.4 kilograms.
Wilburn Cobb, an American who brought the pearl from the Philippines in 1939 and owned it until his death in 1979, published an account of how he came to own it in Natural History magazine.
According to Cobb, he tried to buy it from a Muslim tribal chief but he refused, because he considered the pearl sacred, in part because of its resemblance to the turbaned head of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.
However, in 1936 Cobb saved the life of the chief’s son, who was stricken with malaria, and was given the pearl as a token of gratitude. Because of its sacred associations, the pearl came to be known as the Pearl of Allah.
Later, Cobb wrote a new account in 1969, this time linking the pearl to Chinese legend.
He alleged he had been approached by a Chinese man named Li, who told him that the pearl had first been grown in a much smaller clam around a jade amulet inserted by a disciple of the legendary sage Lao Tzu more than 2,500 years ago, and been transferred over the centuries to ever larger clams, growing to record size. Wars had supposedly been fought over the artifact, and it had been sent to the Philippines as a protective measure, where it was lost in a storm. This version of events gave the pearl a new name, the Pearl of Lao Tzu.
After Cobb’s death in 1979, Peter Hoffman and Victor Barbish bought the pearl from his estate for $200,000.
A more recent evaluation of the pearl has given the unique item a market value of more than $100 million.
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