Who paid £78,000 for this necklace?

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Forget diamonds...pearls will be one lucky girl’s best friend after a mystery buyer splashed out a cool £78,000 on a necklace in Lancashire.

The single string of natural pearls stunned auction-goers when it went under the hammer in Leyland.

Sale: Peter Warren and James Warren, auctioneers from Warren and Wignall

Sale: Peter Warren and James Warren, auctioneers from Warren and Wignall

It wasn’t Sotheby’s, Bonhams or Christie’s selling, but local auctioneers Warren and Wignall.

And company bosses, whose saleroom is in Earnshaw Bridge, were the souls of discretion today, remaining tight-lipped about who sold the spectacular piece of jewellery and, more importantly, who bought it.

“Normally we would love to make a song and dance about something like this,” said auctioneer Peter Warren.

“But both the vendor and the purchaser have requested no publicity, so we are respecting their wishes.”

Visitors to the sale were staggered as the price for Lot 206 continued to rise, first in £50 amounts, then £100, £500 and finally £2,000, as two rival buyers went head-to-head with telephone bids. The hammer finally came down at £66,000 and, with fees added, the bill came to £78,000, one of the largest for a single string of natural pearls for years in the North of England.

One Evening Post reader, who monitored to the auction on-line from Ireland, explained: “It was down to two phone bidders and it was more exciting than the Grand National to be able to listen to it live. They didn’t say who bought it. But it was obviously for a very high-maintenance lady!”

Lot 206, which appeared in the Warren and Wignall sale catalogue as simply “a natural pearl necklace, length 92cms,” was a single string of 126 pearls with a gold clasp.

At £78,000 that breaks down to more than £600 a pearl.

But, while it is one of the most expensive ever auctioned in Lancashire, it still fell well short of the world record. Christie’s of Geneva recently sold a single string for $8.45m (£5.55m).

Auction houses in Britain admit natural pearls are the new diamonds, taking over as the most popular form of adornment for ladies and thus spiralling in price.

While natural pearls are rare - as opposed to both their cultured and artificial cousins - value can vary so much depending on things like size, colour and shape.

Bonhams in New Bond Street, London sold a single string of pearls for just short of £200,000 last September (double its estimated value) but that piece included some diamonds too.

Another, also at Bonhams, went for £82,250.

And in Chorley earlier this month an art nouveau brooch, thought to have been a secret symbol of the suffragette movement and containing 12 small pearls, sold for £6,000.

“Natural pearls have had a sudden surge in popularity recently due to their rarity and buyers across the world are looking for certified pearls like these,” explained Guy Schooling, managing director of Sworders auctioneers based in Essex. So forget diamonds, pearls are now a girl’s best friend!”