Giant pearl does not have precious past
ON Nov. 15, 2002, I wrote a column
about pearls that included two sentences about one particular pearl: "The largest pearl ever found came from a Philippine giant clam. Called the pearl of Allah, it measures 9 inches across, weighs nearly 14 pounds and resembles a small brain."
I got so much e-mail about that pearl, I later wrote an entire column about it (March 21, 2003).
To this day, mail concerning the pearl of Allah keeps rolling in from all over the world. Subjects range from secrets about the pearl's powers, to criminal investigations regarding its sale, to conspiracy theories linking the pearl with al-Qaida.
People are fascinated with this football-size gem.
I use the word gem loosely. As defined in the dictionary, a gem is "a precious stone cut and polished for ornament." This pearl has not been cut or polished, and its bumpy oblong shape might look interesting but it's not what I would call ornamental.
The e-mail that got me back on this subject came last week from a reader who sent a link to an Associated Press story about the famous pearl. This Colorado Springs, Colo., report adds a sordid chapter to the pearl's history.
Joe Bonicelli, a Colorado Springs man described as a bar owner, bought a share of the famous pearl sometime in the past. How much of a share was not reported, but even if the portion was small, Joe must have been running a pretty successful bar. The pearl is supposedly valued at $60 million to $75 million.
When Joe died in 1998, his daughter from his second marriage inherited the estate, including the pearl share. Children from Joe's first marriage, however, sued the estate when they learned that Joe had hired a barber to shoot and kill his first wife, their mother. (The barber succeeded and is now in jail.)
Joe's first children won the case, clearing the way to sell the pearl.
Good luck. The pearl has its own Web site, www.pearlofpeace.com, published by Peter Hoffman. This Beverly Hills jeweler writes that he owns the pearl, and mentions no shareholders. According to Hoffman's site, the pearl is priceless, but he'd part with it for $75 million.
Who, I wondered, would pay that kind of money for a lumpy nugget of nacre (mother-of-pearl)? The plot thickens -- and sickens.
Another man, Victor Barbish, claims to own 66 percent of the pearl. In 1999, he says, individuals from "the bin Laden group" tried to buy the pearl for Osama to give as a gift to Saddam Hussein. They offered $60 million. Barbish refused and reported the incident to the FBI, who kept it a secret.
The Web site reporting this terrorist link to the pearl of Allah is not a reliable one, but it illustrates the wide range of stories about the pearl that continue to circulate.
Since its discovery in 1934, this lopsided lump has generated a long list of goofy tales. But it does have one legitimate claim to fame: its size. The pearl of Allah is the largest pearl ever found.
That means it came from a giant among giants. Giant clams are the largest of all mollusks, and the one that laid down this pearl must have been big and beautiful.
To me, as remarkable as a 14-pound pearl is the marine animal that made it. I'd rather have the clamshell.