Just as the pearl earring is the focal point of light in Vermeer’s painting, Girl with the Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier uses the earring as a central object in the novel of the same name. Chevalier’s Vermeer uses his maid (Griet) as a model in a commissioned work, sidestepping around his jealous wife. Vermeer borrows his wife’s earring for the final sitting, ultimately crossing the line and driving Griet from their house.
We come to find at the end of the novel that Vermeer leaves instructions in his will to bequeath his wife’s earrings to Griet. She’s moved on, and so she doesn’t want to explain the earrings to her husband, deciding to sell them quickly to a local merchant. How much does she get? 20 guilders.
This has proven to be one of the more difficult relative value puzzles, because guilder coins didn’t come into existence until four years after Vermeer’s death (and even later in Delft). However, using the silver content of the first guilder coins, pegging to the pound in 1676, and then figuring for inflation, we can very roughly suppose Griet gets about $375 for selling the pair of pearls.