Pearl Buying Guide
Pearls are a valuable and sought after jewelry adornment that can be set on various jewelry pieces such as rings, earrings, bracelets or strung together as a necklace. There are many different kinds of pearls on the marketplace and it is the aim of this guide to inform the consumer on how to select the right kind of pearls for their needs.
First and foremost the consumer should be well aware on how pearls are created. Pearls are generally produced in rivers, lakes and bays by mollusks. Mollusks would produce layers of nacre on a nucleus and it is the continuous layering of nacre that forms the pearl. There are three main classifications of pearls based on production. These are natural, cultured and imitation. Natural pearls are quite rare mainly due to overfishing and pollution and are produced naturally by mollusks. Cultured pearls are produced in the same manner as natural pearls but are helped along by science. In this case a nucleus is implanted into the mollusk and is monitored by cultivators. Imitation pearls or faux pearls. Imitation pearls are not produced by nacre layering of mollusks, instead they are produced by lacquering glass, plastic or shell beads dipped in ground fish scales with pearlescence. The difference between a natural or cultured pearl as against an imitation pearl is that while the imitation pearl may have that surface shine, it will not produce that inner glow that only pearls created by mollusks can produce.
Now that we know how pearls are produced the consumer should be aware of the varieties of pearls. Within all classifications there are varieties of pearls that evoke different characteristics.
Japanese Akoya Cultured Pearls: These pearls originate from Japan and are considered to be investment grade. They are characterized to have round shapes, sharp reflections and measure from 1mm to 10mm in size.
Chinese Akoya Cultured Pearls: These pearls originate from China and are considered to be not investment grade. They are characterized to have round shapes, mostly dull reflections and measure up to 8mm in size.
White South Sea Cultured Pearls: These pearls originate from Australia/Indonesia and are considered to be investment grade. They are characterized to have round shapes, sharp reflections and measure 7mm to 20mm in size.
Black South Sea Cultured Pearls: These pearls originate from French Polynesia and are considered to be investment grade. They are characterized to have round shapes, sharp reflections and measure 7mm to 20mm in size.
Golden South Sea Cultured Pearls: These pearls originate from Indonesia/Australia and are considered to be investment grade. They are characterized to have round shapes, sharp reflections and measure 7mm to 20mm in size.
Freshwater Cultured Pearls: These pearls originate from China and are considered to be not investment grade. They are characterized to have irregular shapes, sharp reflections and measure up to 20mm in size.
High Grade Freshwater Pearls: These pearls originate from China and are considered to be not investment grade. They are characterized to have round shapes, sharp reflections and measure up to 8mm in size.
Natural Pearls: These pearls can be found anywhere by accident and are considered to be investment grade. They are characterized to possess a variety of shapes and size.
Synthetic Pearls: Imitation pearls that are not investment grade and can be procured in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Now that you are aware of the different pearls out in the market, the consumer should be aware on how to determine the quality of these pearls. While most high quality pearls are very expensive and therefore are found in high end stores. The consumer should still conduct an inspection to truly determine that they are procuring the right quality of pearl.
Several characteristics should be checked before procuring a pearl, these are grading, color, overtone, shape, size, inclusions, matching, luster and nacre.
Grading is the classification of the pearl looking at several of the characteristics that will be listed below. A well reputed store will provide you with a grading report for the pearl that you are procuring. Although there are grading reports available for pearls there is not one standard grade. The most common grading system is A, AA and AAA. Other grading systems are Good, Better and Best. The third classification is A, AA, AAA, AAAA and AAAAA. While this may be confusing for the consumer in selecting their pearls as not all stores adhere to a single grading system, to avoid confusion the consumer can make use of grading reports by reputable institutions. Two comprehensive reports are the GIA Cultured Pearl Classification Report and the Mikimoto Pearl Grading System. The Mikimoto Pearl Grading system are categorized as A1, A, A+, AA and AAA.
A1: Luster – Good, Clear Reflection; Surface – Slightly Blemished
A: Luster – Good, Clear Reflection; Surface – Very Slightly Blemished
A+: Luster – Very Good, Clear Reflection; Surface – Very Slightly Blemished
AA: Luster – Superb, Clear Reflection; Surface – Very Slightly Blemished
AAA: Luster- Exceptional, Mirror like Reflection; Surface – Blemish Free
Pearls come in different colors and if you are procuring a pearl you should be aware of the different colors that the particular pearl you are procuring comes in. This guide provides the consumer with the different colors that pearls come in, these are: White, Off-White, Silver-White, Black, Pink, Cream, Light Cream, Medium Cream, Dark Cream, Blue, Gold and Grey.
Overtone is a color tone that overlies the natural body color of pearls. The overtone is perceptible in white pearls. There are three overtones and they are Rose, Silver and Green. Valuation speaking, the Rose and Silver overtones improve the value of the pearls.
Pearls come in various shapes and the shape determines the value of the pearl. Generally speaking, the rounder the pearl the higher the value, these shapes are listed in order of value: Round, Semi-Round, Button, Drop, Pear, Oval, Baroque and Ringed.
Pearls come in different sizes. Different kinds of pearls are characterized with different sizes. The sizes of different pearls are listed in the beginning portion of this document.
Inclusions are blemishes that can be found on the surface of the pearl. Inclusions can come in the form of cracks or bumps. The consumer should be aware that pearls would generally have tiny marks as this is part of a pearl’s natural texture and should not be confused with blemishes.
Generally speaking no two pearls are the same, however in purchasing pearl jewelries especially necklaces. These pearls should be as closely matched as possible. If they are not matched then they will be noticeable and may affect the beauty of the jewelry. This is of course an aesthetic characteristic and if the consumer desires that mismatched effect in their jewelry then they are by all means free to procure that jewelry upon their desire.
Is defined as the radiance of the pearl, high quality pearls would have a mirror-like effect where the consumer could easily see their reflection on the pearl.
Nacre is the secretion of the mollusks to a foreign body object that will create the pearl. Generally speaking thick Nacre would result in a high quality pearl with mirror-like qualities.
Thickness Grading of Nacre:
Very Thick – 0.5mm thick on all pearls – AAA
Thick – 0.5mm thick on most pearls – AA
Medium – 0.35mm and 0.5mm thick on most pearls – A+
Thin – 0.25mm and 0.35mm thick on most pearls – A
Very Thin – 0.25mm or less on most pearls
Aside from identifying the characteristics of pearls, the consumer should also educate themselves regarding the store that they choose to select their pearls.
- The salesmen should be aware of the different technicalities in pearl characteristics, if it seems they are unaware then consult a different salesperson or choose another store.
- The store should have a good variety of pearls and in particular a good selection of high quality pearls. If you notice a large range of low quality and imitation pearls then choose another store. Chances are they won’t have a high quality pearl to sell, and they might force a lower quality pearl as high quality in order to make a sale.
- The store should allow you to inspect the pearls and they should provide you with a documented report on the pearl’s grading. If they refuse in any of these then you should choose another store. There should be no reason why you cannot get a certificate or inspect the merchandise.
Choosing a pearl should be undertaken carefully. A pearl like other fine jewelry pieces are both adornments and investment pieces. A pearl can cost a lot and ensuring that the consumer procures a high quality product should be taken into consideration as much as choosing the color, size, type and other aesthetic characteristics of a pearl for adornment purposes.