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How to Choose Your First Pearl Necklace - A Definitive Guide

Pearls are one of the oldest gems known to man and have been worn as jeweled adornments since antiquity. Yet they also have a mystique about them which makes them even more alluring. Pearls are seeing a modern renaissance. From fashion runways to political elite, pearls are the go-to jeweled accessory favored by many. The truth, though, is that today as in the past, our love affair with pearls is seemingly and happily unending.

Pearl necklaces are the perfect piece to start your pearl jewelry collection. Choosing your first pearl necklace can be exciting and overwhelming in equal parts. But it doesn’t have to be so. With a little research and some reflection, you can find the perfect pearl necklace for yourself. Here are a few points to consider.

Types of Pearls

As far as cultured pearls go, there are four main types of pearls you can look for in a necklace.

Akoya Pearls were the first pearls to be cultured at pearl farms and are of salt water origin. Renowned for their incredibly sharp, mirror-like luster, they are available in sizes ranging from 3mm up to more than 10mm. Akoya pearls come in a variety of natural colors. White with rose, cream and silvery overtones is the most beloved Akoya pearl color, but these pearls can also be found in shimmering blue as well as captivating golden hues. Black Akoya pearls are color treated but this does not take away from either their beauty or their value. For anyone on the lookout for a “classic” pearl necklace, Akoya pearls are what you should go for.

Akoya Pearls

Akoya Pearls with Rose Overtones

A special type of Akoya pearls are the Hanadama pearls. These are top quality Akoya pearls that have been certified by the Pearl Science Laboratory in Japan, an internationally recognised organisation dedicated to pearl research, quality analysis and pearl certification. What sets Hanadama pearls apart from other Akoya pearls is that they comprise the top 3% of Akoya pearls and meet the highest quality criteria for these pearls. Hanadama pearls are prized for their incomparable luster and their spectacular “aurora” iridescence. Dazzling, to say the least, a Hanadama pearl necklace could easily be the apogee of any pearl lover’s jewelry collection.

White Freshwater Pearls

White Freshwater Pearls 

Freshwater Pearls are another great option. Famous for their beautiful, natural, pastel colors including white, pink, peach and lavender, as well as for their bewitching overtones, Freshwater pearls give jewelry lovers many different options to choose from. Freshwater pearl cultivation started over half a  century ago and today you can find gem quality freshwater pearls that boast a striking luster and perfect skins. Nevertheless, even top quality Freshwater pearls are not as expensive as their Akoya cousins. This makes them perfect for a first time necklace buyer who initially just wants to dip their toes in these pearlescent waters. 

Tahitian Pearls, another saltwater cultured pearl variety, are sometimes referred to as “black pearls” but that’s a grossly misleading description. Ranging in body colors from light to charcoal grey and all the way to black, and showcasing beguiling overtones that embrace a myriad of tones such as blue, green, silver, aubergine, rose, gold, peacock and cherry, Tahitian pearls are luxury, statement gems. Cultured in the picturesque waters of French Polynesia, Tahitian pearls are valued for their thick nacre, satiny luster and the vast array of shapes they come in. For anyone wanting to turn heads, you cannot go wrong with a Tahitian pearl necklace.

Deep Gold South Sea Pearls 

South Sea Pearls are often dubbed the queen of cultured pearls and they undoubtedly deserve this moniker. Their colors range from irresistible silvery and satiny white to several seductive tones of gold - light, champagne, medium and deep. South Sea pearls, just like Tahitians, have a satiny luster which appears luminous, such that the pearl seems to shine from within. Of all the different types of cultured pearls, it is the South Sea oysters that produce the largest pearls, sometimes even as big as 20mm or more. Rare and lovely, a well-matched, graduated, lustrous South Sea pearl necklace is the ultimate pearl jewel!

Pearl Value Factors

While there is no standard, internationally accepted pearl grading system, the value of pearls is easily established by referring to several different factors which include the following:

White south sea pearls

Round, lustrous White South Sea Pearls

  • Nacre quality, or how many layers of nacre are present on a pearl, is an important detail, with thicker nacre always being more desirable.
  • Luster, or how well light reflects off of a pearl’s surface. Sharper and more radiant lustre is always a good indication of superior quality.
  • The size of a pearl can be a way to estimate its value, with larger pearls generally commanding higher prices.
  • The surface of the pearl, or its skin, is again an important factor to look at. Unblemished or lightly blemished pearls are always preferred over ones that are heavily marked.
  • As far as pearl shapes are concerned, round and symmetrical pearls will always be coveted but these days baroque pearls with their organic and unique shapes, are also much sought after.
  • Colors and overtones also affect the value of pearls. More saturated primary pearl body colors such as deep golds in South Sea pearls command higher prices. Similarly, overtones or the secondary colors glimmering on the surface of a pearl can help increase a pearl’s value. Stronger and more varied overtones, such as peacock overtones in Tahitian pearls, are rare and hence make those pearls more valuable.
  • Pearl originalso affects value, with salt water pearls generally being more expensive as compared to freshwater pearls.
  • Finally, and especially for pearl necklaces, a good match (in color, luster, overtones, size, surface quality and shape) is an important starting point in establishing the value of a necklace.

Necklace Lengths

Single strand pearl necklaces are available in several different lengths. Choosing the best length is a happy medium between which length appeals to you and what looks good on you.

Pearl Necklace Lengths

  • A Choker, as the name suggests, is short, about 16 inches long, and sits above the collarbone. It is a popular fashion choice and looks best on wearers who are petite or have long necks. In addition, the choker necklace accentuates the beauty of heart shaped or rectangular faces.
  • A Princess necklace, usually 18 inches in length, sits at or just below the collarbone. This necklace length has been historically very popular and goes with just about every look, from a high neckline to a deep V at the neck. The princess length is particularly favoured by wearers with oval face shapes.
  • A Matinée is a longer necklace, ranging from 22 to 24 inches. A matinée necklace ‘elongates’ the neck and lends length to any silhouette. In addition, it is versatile, adding a touch of elegance to formal, business attire just as it does to a casual look.
  • An Opera length necklace (35 inches) is the definition of sophistication. It falls to mid-torso and looks great with summer dresses, high necks or evening attire. An opera necklace has a delicious flexibility to it. It can be worn as a single strand, doubled to give the appearance of a two strand necklace or knotted in front to look like a pearl lariat. Each of these looks are stellar conversation starters.
  • A Rope length necklace reaches a length of 54 inches and nothing whispers luxury quite like it. Just like the opera necklace, a rope can also be worn in different, equally stylish ways, by wearers of any height. Doubled or tripled, a rope necklace exudes sexy confidence that is hard to miss.

Purchasing your pearl necklace

Finally, when you have done your research and made your decision about the pearl necklace you would like to add to your jewelry collection, there are still a few things to keep in mind.

  • Always purchase pearls from pearl specialists or well-reputed jewellers. There are many bad faith actors in the jewelry world. Therefore it is better to go with pearl sellers who have a solid reputation. With them, you can be sure to get the right pearls at the best price.
  • Choose a clasp that looks good with the pearls in terms of size and color and that speaks to you. This is the one most overlooked aspect of pearl necklace purchase. With the variety of clasps available today, in terms of metal purity, color and size, finding the perfect clasp for your perfect necklace can be a joyfully fun experience.
  • Pearl knotting is an important part of any pearl necklace. A poorly knotted necklace will be flimsy and will look unkempt. A double knotted necklace on silk thread, like the ones available at Pearls of Joy, is a fine detail that cannot be overstated.

Wearing pearls is, undoubtedly, akin to making a style statement. Therefore, a lovely pearl necklace should not be looked upon as just a jeweled adornment. It is, in fact, an investment that will give you years and years of joy.  

Featured Image: Golden South Sea Pearl Necklace, Pearls of Joy

Reema Farooqui is a content writer who loves pearls and pearl jewellery. You can find her on her website The Culture of Pearls or on Instagram at @thecultureofpearls 

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