Pearl Buying Guide
Posted on March 04 2021
Pearls have been on our planet for thousands of years, and they were precious items long before written history began. The first pearl discovered as jewelry was found in a Persian Princess sarcophagus in 420 BC.
But what are the origins of pearls, why are they so precious, and what do you need to know before purchasing one. Here is all you need to know about this magnificent organic gemstone.
What is a Pearl?
Pearls are organic gemstones found inside a mollusk. They are the only gems produced by a living creature. A pearl forms from layers of nacre. A substance with iridescent properties composed of calcium carbonate and conchiolin.
Pearls in history
The discovery of pearls is unclear, but experts believe it was while people searched for food. By the year 2300 BC, pearls were a common gift to Chinese royals. Arab cultures found them precious too. The abundance of pearls along the Persian Gulf increased the region's wealth.
For the Romans, pearls were a trade commodity and a symbol of status. Pearls became a luxury item in Western Europe during the 19th century, purposed for jewelry.
By the 20th century, the demand became so high that oyster supplies fell short. Since then, the value of natural pearls has increased. Antique pieces of jewelry with naturally sourced pearls are amongst the most valuable.
Origin of Pearls
The process usually starts when an irritant, like a parasite, enters the shell's soft area. As protection, the mollusk will cover this organism with layers of nacre. Over time the many layers produce a pearl.
In the early 1900s, Kokichi Mikimoto created the first cultured pearl. Cultured pearls form like natural pearls. The only difference is that man implants the irritant in the oyster.
Types of pearls
Pearls have different characteristics depending on the type of water they grow in. Size, color, shape, and value are some of the distinctions you can make.
Saltwater oysters produce one or two pearls during their life cycle. They come in many colors and shapes, like white, black, cream, golden, gray, blue, green, and purple.
Rivers, bays, and lakes are home to freshwater mollusks. Freshwater pearls are more abundant and affordable. A single shell can produce many pearls. They come in a wide range of colors, from white to pastel colors.
Source of cultured pearls
- Akoya Pearls
Japan and China are the main producers of this type of pearl characterized by its white or cream color. Akoya is a saltwater pearl.
- Tahitian Pearls
French Polynesia islands are the source of these saltwater pearls. Also known as black pearls, due to the darker tones like black, grey, brown, purple, or green.
- South Sea Pearls
Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia are home to saltwater pearls. Famous for its large size, thick nacre, and white, silver, and golden tones.
China is the main source of these pearls. They are the most common type of cultured pearls, and they come in a large variety of colors and sizes.
Pearls being a product of nature, tend to be imperfect when it comes to their shape. Round pearls are more valuable, but it all comes to what you like. Here are some of the most common shapes.
- Round. Round pearls are among the most valuable shapes. Since pearls are a product of nature, it is hard to control the perfection of them. Their symmetry provides value to the piece.
- Button. When cultured, they insert a flat core in the mollusk, and it is the reason why the pearl keeps that shape.
- Rice. An elongated shape characterizes these pearls. They tend to be small and have an irregular surface.
- Baroque. They are asymmetrical pearls with irregular surfaces. Baroque pearls gained popularity due to their uniqueness.
Pearls vary in color depending on the area they form. Other factors like saltwater, freshwater, and mollusk species alter the color too. Although the main color associated with classic pearls is white or cream, they come in many tones. Golden, silver, lavender, pink, grey, black, green, blue, and variations between them.
The lack of inclusions or blemishes increases the value of a pearl. Cultured pearls have human intervention to keep the environment as clean as possible. Look for pearls with little to non-imperfections.
The amount of shine and reflection a pearl has is important to determine its value and quality. When those two characteristics are high, the value will increase. This characteristic is what makes pearls so special. Light travels thru the layers of nacre and reflects into the center of the pearl. A quality pearl will act like a mirror reflecting the light, while less valuable pearls look dull.
Larger pearls are more valuable, and this is because a mollusk needs more time to create a larger pearl. The size of your pearl will depend on the type and style of jewelry you prefer.
Grading and quality
There is no consensus about the grading of pearls what makes it difficult to compare them. Criteria to determine the quality of a pearl are its size, color, shape, and luster. Nacre thickness is also important, and a thicker one will produce a long-lasting pearl.
Are pearls expensive?
Natural pearls are expensive because of their rareness. Most natural pearls have already been harvested, and you can buy one only thru auction. Cultured pearls can be more affordable, but prices vary according to the origin of the pearl and the size.
Akoya and South Sea cultured pearls are some of the most valuable in the market. High-quality and large-sized pearl necklace made of them can range between $10,000.00 to $100,000.00. When it comes to shape, round pearls are the most valuable.
Where to buy pearls?
Pearls are common gemstones. You can find them in many local stores. There are specialty stores with a large selection of styles and price variations. Always make sure you buy from a reputable business, especially if you want to buy online.
Online stores offer great deals. Make sure you read the reviews and specifications of the item you want to buy beforehand. There are artificial versions of pearls, do not confuse them with cultured pearls. Remember that cultured pearls are still a product of nature with the help of humans.
How to care for your pearls
Pearls are organic gemstones that need proper care to keep their beauty, color, and shine. Protect your pearls is by following a rule: pearls should be the last thing you put on and the first you take off.
Products like sunscreen, perfume, hairspray, and cosmetics can damage the luster of your pearls. Make sure you wait at least 30 minutes after applying those products to wear your pearls.
Clean your pearl jewelry with a soft cloth after wearing it. Store them separate from other jewelry items to prevent scratches. Please keep them in a well-aired environment, avoid plastic bags.
Pearls are elegant and timeless gemstones, and there are plenty of options for you to choose from. From the classic white round pearl necklace to pendants with a single pearl and a diamond. They are the ideal companion for other gemstones and look flawless by themselves.
Here are some tips and useful information to buy a piece of pearl jewelry.
The most popular pearl jewelry is a simple strand necklace. But as simple as they seem, they come in different lengths, pearl sizes, and rope materials.
Your pearl necklace's length will depend on your style and the purpose you have for the piece. The most popular length is 16", a short necklace that suits a casual style. For a more formal occasion you should choose from 26" to 36". There are longer versions that you can wear doubled.
An important characteristic of a quality pearl necklace is the knots. They prevent friction and protect them from scattering around if the necklace breaks. Look for necklaces with knots between each pearl.
- Pearl size
This is a personal decision and will also depend on your style. The most popular sizes range between 7 to 8 mm. Followed by 8.5 to 9mm. If you prefer a larger size, 10 to 14 mm will suit you.
I hope we solved your questions. You now have a clear idea of the nature of pearls, their history, and what to look for when investing in a beautiful piece of jewelry. Remember that with proper care, your pearls will last a lifetime and beyond.