(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – The world’s largest freshwater pearl, the so-called Sleeping Lion, has sold at auction for €320,000 ($374,000).
However the pearl, which is 7cm (2.75in) long and weighs more than 153g (5.4oz) and was once owned by Catherine the Great, did not reach its estimate.
The Venduehuis auction house in The Hague said this was the first auction of the pearl in 240 years.
The Sleeping Lion is thought to have formed in China between 1700 and 1760, before making its way to Europe.
The auction house says it weighs 2,373 grains – an imperial unit of measurement based on grains of barley and wheat.
Its catalogue had put the estimate at between €340,000 and €540,000.
Experts have studied the pearl over the past 20 years and determined that, despite its odd shape, it is naturally occurring and the largest freshwater pearl yet discovered.
According to Venduehuis’s catalogue, the Sleeping Lion came to Europe through the Dutch East India Company – despite a Qing dynasty ban on exporting large pearls.
Hendrik Coenraad Sander, accountant general for the company, was thought to be the first European owner of Sleeping Lion.
Following his death, the pearl was auctioned in Amsterdam in 1778 and bought for Russian empress Catherine the Great.
The pearl spent the next two centuries moving around Europe, owned by merchants, jewellers and aristocrats, before its acquisition in 1979 by the Amsterdam Pearl Society – who sold the Sleeping Lion on Thursday.