Among the most colorful tales in the pearl world is that of a legendary banquet, where Cleopatra bet Marc Antony that she could host the most expensive dinner in history. According to the author and noted pearl expert Fred Ward, in his book, Pearls, the queen hoped to impress Antony and the Roman Empire he represented with the extent of Egypt’s wealth.
In her clever attempt to do so, she crushed one large pearl from a pair of earrings and dissolved it in a goblet of wine (or vinegar), before gulping it down.
“Astonished, Antony declined his dinner—the matching pearl—and admitted she had won,” Ward writes.
The famous story of Cleopatra’s pearls is told by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History. Pliny often called the world’s first gemologist, estimated the two pearls’ worth at 60 million sestertii, or roughly $28.5 million in today’s dollars.