Frequently Asked Questions About Buying Pearls

pearl jewelry guide

Cultured pearls are the standard type of pearl that you see in retail jewelry stores. Natural pearls are extremely expensive because of their rarity. Over fishing and pollution have almost completely destroyed the natural pearl industry around the world.

The only difference between a cultured pearl and a natural one is that the cultured pearl mollusk has had a little help from the pearl farmer. Instead of hoping for a sand grain to accidentally lodge inside the mollusk and a pearl to form, the pearl farmer implants a small nucleus in the mollusk to stimulate nacre production.

The process by which the mollusk deposits the nacre around the nucleus is exactly the same as with a sand grain – the farmer just doesn’t depend on luck. It takes several years for a pearl to grow large enough to be considered of commercial size.  That is why large pearls are so expensive.

Is there an accepted system for grading pearl quality?

Pearls do not have a generally accepted, industry wide, grading system like diamonds. The GIA and the EGL have proposed grading standards for pearls, but they have not been universally accepted. Many pearl companies use a system based on the terms A, AA, AAA to grade cultured pearls on overall quality.

These standards will vary widely from company to company. This is why you do not routinely see Lab Reports or Certifications associated with pearls like you do with diamonds. This is why we consider reputation and history of the source of the pearls to be so important.

What do you mean by a pearls shape?

Pearls come in a wide variety of shapes, including round, off-round, teardrop, and baroque shaped pearls among others. Baroque pearls can be symmetrical or asymmetrical.  Certain types of pearls are valued for their unusual shapes and jewelry is specifically designed to complement these shapes. The value of the classic cultured pearl necklace is based to some extent on the roundness of the pearls in the necklace.

What do you mean by luster or “orient”?

These are actually two different, but related terms.  Luster or “glow” is caused by light reflection from within the pearl.  The higher the reflective qualities within the pearl, the stronger the luster or “glow”.  Orient is caused by tiny crystals within the nacre layers aligning on top of each other.  This creates a prismatic effect which will intensify the pearls luster.

What do you mean by  “complexion”?

The term “Complexion” refers to the amount of surface blemishes or imperfections in a pearl’s surface. Cultured pearls are a made by a living creature, thus they will generally have some type of blemish. There is no commonly accepted grading system for blemishes in the surface (complexion) of pearls.

How does size affect the price of pearls?

Size is a primary factor in determining the value of cultured pearls. Cultured pearls get their overall size from two things, the size of the implant and the thickness of nacre. The thicker the pearl’s nacre, the more luminous the pearl becomes. It takes a long time for the mollusk to deposit a thick layer of nacre and this is seen in the increase in value of a cultured pearl with thick nacre.

What does “well matched” mean?

Matching is the process were pearls of similar quality are strung together to form a strand or necklace. Matching pearls takes time, so it has a direct impact on the cost of pearl jewelry. Poorly matched cultured pearls are very noticeable, do not have a pleasing appearance and are less valuable than well matched pearls.