Famous Gemstones - Pearl of Lao Tze


Imagine the excitement of a pearl diver, diving off the coast of the island of Palawan in the Philippines when he discovered a giant clam. And imagine the amazement on the face of the diver, named Etem, when he opened the clam to discover an enormous pearl that looked like a deformed brain. To the Muslim diver it appeared to resemble a head wearing a turban.

The Pearl of Lao Tze was created by a giant clam (Tridacna gigas). The pearl itself weighs about the size of a medium watermelon. Pearls are normally described in terms of their size (diameter) in millimetres, but the weight of a pearl can be provided. This pearl is 238 mm in diameter and weighs 6.4 kg. In carats – that’s 1280.

In 1966 the Pearl of Lao Tze was valued at 35,000,00 US dollars. A more recent estimation by the San Francisco Gem Laboratory, reported in The Guinness Book of Records, values the pearl at approximately 40,000,000 US dollars. The pearl is currently held in a San Francisco bank vault.

The mythical origins of the Pearl of Lao Tze are said to date back to the 6th century BC, to the great philosopher Lao Tze, father of Taoism, after whom the clam was named. The story goes that Lao Tze finally despaired of the evils of humankind and on his death he passed an amulet to his nephew, which had carved images of himself, Buddha and Confucius – the famous ‘Three Friends’.

In alignment with the story, instructions were given to the nephew of Lao Tze, to place the amulet inside a giant clam, and as the Tridacna clams passed the pearl down from generation to generation, it grew larger and larger, until it was eventually discovered. Although the giant pearl was originally named the ‘Pearl of Allah’, by the diver who discovered it, it was later renamed the ‘Pearl of Lao Tze’, as some people claimed to be able to see the Buddha inside it.

It is reported that in the twilight years of China’s Sui Dynasty (581 – 618 AD), a direct descendant of Lao Tze, named Lee, had a prophetic dream. The dream revealed that the Pearl of Lao Tze conveyed a message from the Three Friends, which foretold a new dynasty was to succeed the Sui. This future dynasty would be unique in China’s history for its humane attitude and compassionate rulership.

Additionally in the dream, Lee was told of a boy who would become the second emperor. This boy had previously been given shelter by Lee, and his name was Li Shih-Min, son of the Duke of Tang, and the founder of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).

This prophecy came true. The Tang dynasty was a golden age of literature and art; its capital Chang’an was a world centre of commerce and trade; Tang politics used a system based on Confucianism to select the best people for government, and historians regard it as the strongest empire in the 8th century.

© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.