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How To Buy Pearls

Buying pearls can be a daunting and difficult task for the uninitiated but with a little bit of research the job can become a very interesting and enjoyable experience. The goal of this article is to be a simple primer for those new to shopping for pearl jewelry, but in no way can the topic of "Pearls" be covered in a single page. For a more detailed look at cultured pearls, please visit our Learning Center.

Step 1 - What Are Cultured Pearls?

All pearls sold on the retail market are "cultured pearls" unless otherwise labeled as natural pearls. Many Jewelers and consumers mistakenly label Freshwater pearls as "cultured pearls", but this is misleading since Akoya, Freshwater, Tahitian and South Sea pearls are all "cultured pearls". To avoid confusion knowledgeable dealers and consumers will refer to pearls by their correct pearl type.

Step 2 - What Type of Pearl Should I Buy?

Decide what type of pearl suits your style and budget. A strand of pearls can range from $35 - $35,000+, so understanding the different types of pearls will help you narrow down your choice.

Akoya Pearls

Akoya Pearls - Price $60 - $3000+

Akoya pearls are the classic white pearls and typically have the highest luster and greatest shine of all cultured pearls. Typical Akoya pearls range from 5 mm to 11 mm, with the 10 and 11 mm sizes rare finds. The most common size and the best value is between 7.0mm - 7.5mm with a sharp jump at anything 8.0mm and above. The Akoya pearl is either white or cream in body color and typically has a rose, cream or Ivory overtone; Akoya pearls may also be treated to achieve a black body color.
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Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater Pearls - Price $59 - $1500

Freshwater pearls come from freshwater mussels and are primarily produced by China. Freshwater pearls come in various pastel shades of white, black, pink, peach, lavender, plum, purple, and tangerine, depending on the type of mussel. The typical size of freshwater pearls is 2mm - 16mm with 7mm - 8mm being the most common.
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Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian Pearls - Price $120 - $10,000+

Tahitian Pearls come from the warm waters of the South Seas and are grown in a Black-Lipped oyster. They are the only pearl to achieve a black body color naturally and are typically very large(9mm - 16mm). Tahitian pearls, although mostly dark, can come in a wide range of hues, including black, gray, silver, green, blue and purple.
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south sea pearls

South Sea Pearls - Price $399 - $30,000

South Sea pearls are saltwater pearls cultivated from the oyster, found in the South Seas centering on Northern Australia and South-East Asia, including Myanmar and Indonesia. They produce 10-20 mm pearls of silver or gold color, the largest of any cultured pearl. South Sea pearls are also the most expensive pearl on the market due to their rarity and thick nacre.
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Step 3 - What Color of Pearl Should I Buy?

color of pearls
Never before has such a wide range of pearl colors been available. Whites, Lavenders, Golds, Pinks, Greens, Blues, Purples and every shade in-between can be found naturally and with the aid of treatments. White is the classic, versatile color choice and many believe that a woman's first pearl necklace should always be a white strand. "Black" pearls are not actually black but dark shades of gray, greens and blues and give an exotic look that works especially well with darker skin tones. Pink, peach and lavender shades are fun, flirty pieces perfect for spring and summer wear but when color matched correctly with an outfit can look incredibly sophisticated as well.

Color is a personal choice and generally doesn't affect the price of pearl, so let your personal taste guide your color choice. View our pearl color page for more information.

Step 4 - Pearl Value Factors

Pearl Shape
When dealing with cultured pearls there are several factors that will determine the overall value of a pearl. The biggest factor is shape. Round pearls almost always command the highest price, but many love the uniqueness of baroque and off-round pearls as well. Read more about pearl shape here.

Pearl Surface
The surface of a pearl is another important factor to consider; the cleaner the pearl's surface the better. A pearl is a natural gemstone so there will always be some form of imperfection, but as long as they are minor they won"t be noticeable when worn. Read more about pearl surface here.

Pearl Luster
Related to surface is luster; a poor surface will negatively impact the luster of a pearl. High luster is what all pearl buyers are looking for; a high quality pearl with high luster will be almost mirror-like in appearance. A pearl's luster is what makes a pearl "pop" and stand out. Read more about pearl luster here.

Pearl Size
Last but possibly most important is size, and in the case of pearls, size matters. Traditionally a women will "earn the right" to wear larger pearls as she matures. A good rule of thumb is to choose pearls 7mm and larger for adult women and keep anything smaller reserved for young girls and teenagers. Read more about pearl size here.

Pearl Buying Tips

- Only purchase from a company with a solid return policy. Pearls always look great in a photograph or showroom but may appear different in natural lighting, so it's important to be able to exchange or return your pearls if necessary.

- Purchase from a retailer that specializes in pearls. 99% of all jewelers are uneducated; misinformed or simply ignorant when it comes to cultured pearls, many don't understand the product they are selling.

- Don't get hung up on brand names; Tiffany's and Mikimoto both are known for high quality goods, but by no means do they have a monopoly on high quality pearls. Savings of thousands of dollars can be had if you do your research.

- A simple method to check if a pearl is real or imitation is the "Tooth Test". Gently slide the pearl across the front of your teeth; if it feels smooth then it's a fake, as real pearls feel gritty.

For a more in depth look at pearls, please visit our Learning Center

Shop For Pearls

Akoya Pearls
Akoya Pearls
Freshwater Pearls
Freshwater Pearls
South Sea Pearls
South Sea Pearls
Tahitian Pearls
Tahitian Pearls
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