Cleopatra wore a magnificent pair of pearl earrings. At a feast, she proceeded to impress Marc Antony with her wealth and/or love; she is said to have dissolved one of the pearls from her earrings in vinegar and drank it.

This story, like the date 1066 is familiar to every school child. The value attributed to this pearl or pair of pearls was said to be 60 million sestertii. It isn’t easy to work out in today’s values how much money was involved.

Kunz and Stevenson estimated the value in 1908 to be equal to 1 875 000 ounces of silver(1). Since it would be the policy for court jewelers or valuers to wish to keep in favor, doubtless, the figure suffers from inflation.

The second pearl of the pair was cut in two to form ear pendants for the Venus in the temple of the Pantheon at Rome. The value of the second pearl which was bequeathed at the queen’s death was given as 250 000 ‘escus’ of gold. Again, difficulty is met in establishing proportionate value.

These kinds of story grip public imagination and make useful ploys for novelists. What should be considered is the impossibility of dissolving a pearl in vinegar. A crushed pearl might slowly dissolve over a very lengthy period of time.


1. Cleopatra’s Pearls — Classical Journal 52:193‑201 (1957) [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 15]. Available from:*.html

About the Author


I am a pearl and oyster enthusiast who loves to share her knowledge and experiences about fashion with the world. I am neither a certified gemologist nor a reseller of pearls.

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