Tips for Buying Pearl Jewelry

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A pearl necklace or pearl studs are classic pieces of jewelry you won’t regret owning. We recently purchased a pearl necklace as a gift and were overwhelmed with how many options there are on the market. If you want to avoid a big brand name, here are our tips for making the most of your investment.

1. Natural vs. Cultured

Natural pearls are very rarely used in new jewelry. Difficult to procure and in many places illegal, natural pearls are most easily found today by buying vintage jewelry. Cultured pearls make up the vast majority of pearl jewelry today. Typically, natural pearls are sold as stand alone items.

2. Luster

Similar to diamonds and other stones, there is a rating system for pearls, based on a factor called luster. Unfortunately, the industry has not adopted a universal system, but there are two main grading systems:

A-AAA

In this grading system, A is the lowest end and indicates a pearl that is flat and chalky.

A-D

On this scale, A represents the highest quality pearl, with lower quality items moving down the scale like a school grade.

If you don’t know which system the jeweler is using, you can determine a pearl’s luster by looking closely at what is reflected in the pearl itself. The more sharply the reflection is defined, the higher quality the pearl is. The best way to describe luster we’ve found is to look at the pearl to see if it appears to be “glowing from within.”  If you’re buying your necklace in a shop, avoid pearls that looks chalky or flat.

3. Shape

Round pearls are very hard to achieve because they are manufactured by nature. The rounder the pearl is, the higher the quality and the price increases as well.

4. National Standards

Somewhat like champaign, areas that harvest cultured pearls have created different standards. Here are the three most highly sought after regions and styles:

Akoya Pearls: Usually from Japan or China, these pearls are usually round in shape and naturally white.

South Sea Pearls: Usually from Australia, they are prized for their very large size. Golden South Sea Pearls are usually harvested in Indonesia.

Tahitian Pearls: The largest variety of color are found in these pearls which are sometimes just called black pearls

5. Freshwater vs Seawater

Seawater Pearls: Akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian pearls are all seawater pearls. They are produced from oysters and each oyster can only produce an average of three pearls in their lifetime. Seawater pearls are cultured by placing a small round bead in an oyster, which helps the pearl grow roundly – and contributes to seawater pearl’s higher price point.

Freshwater Pearls: Produced from mussels and are less likely to be perfectly round. Mussels can produce up to fifty pearls, but because they are cultured by using a small piece of tissue as the irritant, they are usually more oblong in shape.

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