How to pick the perfect pearl for you

Considering buying pearls? Find out what different types you can choose from, and how to tell their quality.

Pearls are considered to be one of the most elegant accessories a woman can own. Their history is rich with royalty, elegance, class, and power. This natural gemstone is known for its rich luster and shape, setting them apart from other gemstones. 

Luckily, the price of pearls has come down significantly over the last decade. So whatever your budget, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find something that you can afford.

Trethowans
Trethowans

But, there’s a big caveat: you still need to know what you’re buying… and how much you should be spending.

Because, as simple as they look, pearls vary greatly both in quality and cost. There are many factors you have to consider before getting out your credit card. And because not all of us are certified gemologists, we’ve pulled together some quick buying tips and educational guides for those of us who love pearls as much as we do.

Pearl types

It turns out that not all pearls are created equal. There are several types of pearls, and all come from different parts of the world in different shapes, sizes, colors, and luster.

Here’s a brief rundown of the different types of pearls.

Tahitian black pearls

As the name implies, these pearls take on beautiful black, green and blue tones and come from the south pacific. They are cherished for their incredibly exotic colors and mirror-like luster. Whereas other pearl types are typically limited in color, Tahitian pearls consist of hundreds of overtones with incredibly exotic colors such as peacock green, silver green, blue, and eggplant, just to name a few.

These pearls are produced by the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster, which is found exclusively in Tahiti and several other French Polynesian islands.

Freshwater pearls

Freshwater pearls are very affordable but still high quality if you’re willing to pay for them. They’re typically found in lakes and rivers in China. In recent years, the quality of freshwater pearls has drastically improved and has resulted in beautiful pearls that are cleaner, rounder, and more lustrous.

Due to their mass production, freshwater pearls are also popular for their affordable price points. Freshwater pearl sizes typically range from 5mm to 10mm, though they are often available in larger sizes up to 13mm.

South Sea pearls

White and golden South Sea pearls are cherished for their classic color as well as their exceptional sizes. These rare gems are produced by the Pinctada Maxima oyster, found in very deep and offshore waters.

White South Sea pearls are commonly found off the shores of Australia and are typically creamy white in color with a silver overtone. High quality golden South Sea pearls are usually found in the Philippines and include a wide variation of shades of light to dark golden colors.

Akoya pearls

Since the 1930s, Akoya pearls have been the world’s best-known pearl. Akoya pearls are often very round and spherical in shape and are complemented by very high luster.

Produced by a small oyster called the Pinctada Fucata off the seas of Japan and China, they are commonly found in sizes ranging from 2mm to 10mm in size. Akoya pearls are a long-time favorite in the pearl industry and are commonly worn by brides on their wedding day.

Pearl quality

Like diamonds, pearls are graded based on their quality, symmetry, and more on a scale from A to AAAA (the latter being of the highest quality). Here’s what you need to know about pearl grading.

Pearl grading is a key metric to understand before ultimately making your pearl jewelry purchase. Due to a lack of universal grading standards for pearls, it’s important for consumers to purchase from reputable and trustworthy pearl suppliers that uphold the highest standards for pearl quality. 

Remember the key points:

  • S (Surface) – The highest quality pearls will have a surface with few if any blemishes and a clean, pure surface.
  • L (Luster) – The luster of a pearl is the shine that makes it stand out. Low quality pearls will appear dull, while higher quality pearls will pop. 
  • N (Nacre) – Think of nacre as thickness. High quality pearls will be thick and firm.
  • S (Shape) – The highest quality pearls will be perfectly round and symmetrical. 

Color

If you’ve made it this far, you know that pearls don’t have to be white! From peach to rosé to blue to green to gold and even black, color is more about personal preference than it is about the quality of the pearl.

That said, you should look for pearls that not only suite your style but also are rich and vibrant in color.

Famous pieces

Pearls have a rich history. Here are some of the most famous pieces worldwide. 

  • Dodge Pearls – These belonged to Catherine The Great, who was a Russian monarch. These pearls gained immense popularity in the 1920s. 
  • Marilyn Monroe’s Mikimoto Necklace – This famous necklace was given to the one and only Marilyn Monroe by her husband, Joe DiMaggio, on her honeymoon. 
  • Latendresse’s Labour of Love – Made by John Latendresse, this Tennessee cultured necklace took a total of twenty-five years to be compiled. Latendresse is the father of the American cultured pearl.  
  • Conch Pearl Necklace – Designed by the renowned Tiffany & Co. gemologist George F. Kunz, this rare conch pearl necklace weighs 4.7 grams. It was made for Charles Walters in the 1900s. 
  • Bosses’ String of Pearls – Mikimoto Kōkichi, the world-famous pearl maker, collected pearls for 10 ten years by himself, to make this precious necklace. The string has 49 pearls and one big pearl that sits elegantly in the center. 

Photo by Elena Koycheva