There are many varieties of pearls on the market today and many factors to consider when purchasing pearls. The information below is designed to assist you in making an informed pearl purchase
Cultured pearls share the same properties as natural pearls and are grown by live oysters. The only difference is a bit of encouragement by man. The oyster is implanted with a foreign body and in an effort to ease this irritant, the oyster’s body takes defensive action by creating a substance called nacre which coats the irritant. Over time, these layers of nacre build up to form the lustrous pearl – each one with its own beauty and wonder.
Types Of Pearls
- South Sea Cultured Pearls — formed by oysters called Pinctada Maxima, which are quite large and live in the warmer waters of the South Seas, as well as off the coast of Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia. They generally range in size from 8mm to 20mm. There are two basic groups of South Sea Cultured Pearls – white and black. The colours from the white group range from white and silvery-blue to pale gold. South Sea Cultured Pearls command premium prices due to their relative rarity and large size.
- Tahitian Cultured Pearls — grown in a variety of large pearl oysters found primarily in French Polynesia. Tahitian pearls generally range in size from 7mm to 15mm. Their colors range from blue, green, violet, and combinations of these colors, as well as the exotic peacock green.
- Akoya — produced by the Japanese Akoya oyster, they are primarily round or oval in shape and measure from 2mm to 10mm, depending on the size of the oyster in which it is formed. The colours range from pinkish white to creamy shades and silvery blue.
- Freshwater Pearls – these pearls are almost exclusively cultured in the Chinese lakes and rivers, in mollusks such as Hyriopsis Cumingi. They come in a variety of shapes from oval to button, drop and baroque. Their colours range from white to orange and rosy violet. Their unique shapes and colors make them admired jewelry items.
The quality of cultured pearls can be assessed by five key characteristics – size, shape, luster, colour and complexion. Together, they contribute to the quality and beauty of the cultured pearl. No two pearls will be exactly alike and no matter how closely one may resemble the other, there will be slight differences between them. When selecting pearls, it is important to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Pearls come in a range of sizes, determined by the type of pearl itself, as well as the location in which it was formed. Pearls are usually measured in millimeters and are measured through the diameter. Freshwater Pearls are available in sizes from 3 to 10mm; Akoya Pearls range from 2mm to 10mm and Tahitian and South Sea Pearls can start at about 8mm and range in size up to 20mm.
There are many aspects to consider when purchasing pearls, but size is a good starting point in your decision making. A strand of pearls between 5 and 6mm is lovely on a petite frame or in a double strand on a taller woman. A size of 6 to 7mm looks beautiful and is still affordable. For a really elegant look, the favourite size tends to be 7 to 8mm. Necklaces in this size are simply stunning. If however, you have a fondness for large pearls, anything above 8mm is considered to be ‘high end’ and will be quite costly and possibly difficult to acquire.
Pearls come in a variety of shapes. The rounder a pearl is, the rarer and more valuable it is. Off-round or near-round pearls are often excellent value as they can easily be disguised by their presentation or setting. For example, Mabe pearls are perfect for many types of earrings.
Luster is the most predominant factor when determining a pearl’s quality and value. When light reflects off the built up layers of nacre on a pearl it creates an extraordinary effect and the pearl will appear to glow warmly from within. The intensity of this is determined by the thickness and quality of the built up layers of nacre. This effect is very eye-catching and is what makes pearls so desirable.
Pearls come in a wide range of natural colours/shades, and many pearls are dyed to suit fashion requirements. Natural colours include the whites, creams, pinks, lilacs, silver and gold shades as well as black for the Tahitian pearls. When referring to the color of the pearl, it is the body of the pearl that is considered to be the primary shade, but pearls can also exhibit a secondary color when light reflects off them – called an ‘overtone’. There is also an effect called ‘orient’ that occurs when the pearl is revolved
When selecting a pearl colour to buy, the basic guideline to follow – next to personal taste, is to match the pearl to the skin tone. Pearls with rose overtones will flatter fair or light coloured skin and silver overtones will compliment darker or tanned skin. If you are purchasing pearls for someone else, the colour choice should be based on the personal taste of the wearer as opposed to your own.
Pearls may have natural surface blemishes or spots which may or may not detract from the pearls’ beauty, depending on the quantity, depth or visibility of the spots.
Grading Of Pearls
There is no universal grading system in the pearl Industry; however most retailers and wholesalers adopt the A-AAAA system to assist their customers in selecting the best pearls. This system grades pearls from A to AAAA, with AAAA being the finest. Below is a guide as to how this system works:
- Grade A – these are good pearls with an off-round shape. The surface may have small imperfections but these will be difficult to spot unless the pearl is studied very closely. The luster of a Grade A pearl is good.
- Grade AA – these are very good pearls with near-round shapes. The surface is clean and without any significant imperfections. The luster of a Grade AA pearl is very good and these pearls represent excellent value for money. The near-round shape is difficult to spot when the pearls are being worn and they look great.
- Grade AAA – this grade reflects excellent quality pearls with good roundness. The pearl surfaces are clean and the luster is excellent. They possess a mirror-like quality which is consistent from pearl to pearl.
- Grade AAAA – pearls in the AAAA category represent the best that pearls can offer. These pearls are extremely lustrous and radiant. AAAA grade pearls have excellent roundness and the complexion of each pearl is extremely clean. The luster presents a perfect mirror-like reflection and is consistent from pearl to pearl. These pearls are rare and command much higher prices than the other grades.
Quality pearls are incredibly durable, but still require care to keep their beauty. Pearls should be kept free of perspiration, cosmetics, dust and dirt which can dull their luster over time. To avoid the effects of cosmetics and perfumes, pearls should be the last jewellery item put on before going out and the first to be taken off after returning home. Wear them often as the natural oils from the body help to keep them lustrous. Care should be taken to wipe your pearls after use with a soft cloth and also stored in a soft cloth away from other abrasive objects. Pearls may be periodically washed using a very mild soap. Rinse them in clean water and use a damp cotton towel to dry them. Strands may require re-stringing annually if worn regularly.