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The Wide World of Pearls, Our 69th Issue: What Makes a Pearl Valuable? A Guide to 6 Pearl Value Factors



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Weekly Eye Candy Spotlight: Galatea Carved Pearl Necklace



We've mentioned pearl carver and entrepreneur Chi Huyhn on this blog before to showcase his "peek a boo" Tahitian pearls nucleated with precious gemstones like opals or turquoise ... this time around, we're showcasing this show-stopping carved large freshwater pearl necklace.

Each captivating pearl features intricate designs hand-carved by Chi himself into the thick, iridescent bronze-pink-golden nacre. Talk about an Autumn-themed strand of pearls!


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Pearl Value Factors



What Makes a Pearl Valuable? The 6 Value Factors for Pearls

Pearl sorters and appraisers evaluate pearls according to 6 major criteria before assigning a cultured pearl a grade and monetary value. These are:

  • Luster
  • Nacre Thickness
  • Shape
  • Size
  • Surface Quality
  • Color

This post will go through each of these value factors and explain how each attribute contributes to the overall beauty and value of a pearl. 


Pearl Value Factors: Luster



Over and above ANY other pearl characteristic, luster is what gives pearls their beauty and value as a precious gemstone. 

Luster can be described as the subtle glow that appears to come from within the pearl, and the detailed reflection of light and other objects visible on the pearl's surface.

The interior glow is produced by light entering the pearl and reflecting back through the layers of nacre. The quality of the luster is directly related to how even and smooth the layers of nacre are.

You should be able to see your reflection on the surface of a pearl with good luster. A pearl with no reflection or a dull color is of poor quality. That said, different pearl types have different levels of luster that characterize the pearl.

Learn more about Pearl Luster Here.


Pearl Value Factors: Nacre Thickness


Nacre Thickness

Nacre is the smooth, subtly iridescent surface that gives a pearl its beauty.

When an irritant enters the oyster or, as in the case of cultured pearls is placed inside the oyster, it responds by coating the irritant with layers of nacre. The thicker and smoother the nacre the more valuable the pearl.

Good quality Akoya pearls should have a nacre thickness of about 10-15% of the diameter of the pearl - in comparison Tahitian pearls and South Sea pearls may be up to 50% nacre surrounding the bead nucleus. 

Freshwater pearls will be solid nacre, as these pearls have a internal nucleus of tissue, which degrades as the pearl grows leaving a solid nacre pearl - similar to how natural pearls grow in the wild. 


Pearl Value Factors: Surface Quality


Surface Quality

Clean, unblemished cultured pearls are worth much more than pearls with numerous surface inclusions. 

That said, as products of nature, all pearls will have some kind of mark, blemish or irregularity in the growth process that can be seen either upon up close inspection, or under a loupe.

Sorters, graders and pearl lovers alike will look out for pearls that appear "clean to the eye", not pearls that are "perfectly clean" which does not really exist in nature. 

Some marks on pearls aren't blemishes at all, but growth characteristics - these generally take the form of bumps, ridges, folds in the nacre or even tiny blobs of nacre on the surface of the pearls.

The vast majority of all pearl inclusions are pretty tiny, colorless or correspond to the pearl's body color, so don't worry too overly much about some spots here and there throughout a strand's layout as long as the luster and overall beauty of the pearls shines out. 

Learn more about Pearl Grading Here.


Pearl Value Factors: Shape


Pearl Shape

The most valuable and rarest pearl shape of all is a perfect spherical round. Truly round pearls represent less than 5% of any pearl harvest, making them incredibly rare when you consider the scale of each harvest.

Off-round pearls and button-shapes are the next most rare, and can represent a great savings for the savvy pearl shopper - especially when it comes to Tahitian and South Sea pearls. These are dramatically less expensive than perfectly round pearls, but will give the look and appearance of a round pearl necklace for most casual observers.

The next most rare pearl shape is that of a smooth drop. This can be a true tear-drop shape, egg-shaped and oval; but the surface of the pearl will be smooth and the shape will be symmetrical.

High quality matched pairs of large drop-shaped pearls can fetch a premium price due to their rarity and difficulty in matching them for shape, size, color, luster, surface quality and nacre thickness. 

Baroque pearls are most common, representing around 80% of each pearl harvest. Baroque pearls can be circled - ringed around the outer diameter of the pearl - or just accented with unique features like tips, knobs, bubbles and rings ... or be totally free-form and asymmetrical in shape.


Pearl Value Factors: Size


Pearl Size

All other factors being equal, the larger a pearl is, the more valuable it is. 

Pearls can range in size from 1mm seed pearls to huge 20mm South Sea pearls. Cultured pearls of 6.0 - 7.5mm are the most common, and above this size the price jumps upward rapidly with each half-millimeter from 7.5mm up.

To date the largest pearl recorded is a 26.95mm baroque south sea pearl.

Akoya pearls tend to range in size from tiny 1.0-2.0mm seed pearls up to 9.5-10.0mm at their largest. The average size range for Akoya pearls runs from 4.5-5.0mm through 9.0-9.5mm.

Freshwater pearls similarly can range from tiny seed pearls, but grow larger up to 12.0-13.0mm and even larger with new bead-nucleated Edison pearl varieties. The average size range for Freshwater pearls runs 6.0-7.0mm through 10.0-11.0mm.

Tahitian and South Sea pearls can range from as small as 7.0-8.0mm up through 21.0mm at their largest. The average size ranges start at 8.0-9.0mm up through 15.0-16.0mm however. 

Learn more about Pearl Sizes Here.


Pearl Value Factors: Colors


Pearl Colors

Pearls come in nearly every color of the rainbow, but the most popular and widely recognized are of course, white and black.

A pearl's color does not greatly effect its value unless it's a particularly rare and coveted hue (like royal purple, or sky blue); usually a pearl's color is more of an issue of personal taste. That said, some pearl colors are more valuable than others. 

Tahitian pearls have an almost endless range of pearl color variations, but the most coveted and valuable are peacock, aubergine, sky blue, pistachio and natural chocolate.

Golden South Sea pearls can range in depth and saturation from pale champagne to 10kt gold all the way to dark, orangey colored 24kt gold hues. Generally the deeper and more saturated the color, the more valuable the pearls are. 24kt Golden South Sea pearls are worth much, much more than paler 10kt Golden South Sea pearls. 

Freshwater pearls come in natural shades of white, pink, peach and lavender, and have historically been dyed nearly every color of the rainbow. Pearls of Joy only carries naturally colored freshwater pearls with the exception of color-treated black. 

Akoya pearls are most often thought of as white, but these pearls can be found in natural shades of gold, blue and silver, and are also often dyed a midnight blue-black color. White is and will remain the most classic, coveted color.

Learn more about Pearl Colors Here.


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 Weekly Product Spotlight: Tahitian South Sea Pearl & Diamond Taylor Pendant



Tahitian South Sea Pearl & Diamond Taylor Pendant

A beautiful pearl pendant with a gorgeous centerpiece!

This remarkable 14K white gold pendant has a beautiful 11.5mm high quality Tahitian South Sea pearl with .0 of SI quality sparkling diamonds and is made up of 18K white gold.

This pendant displays the true beauty of Tahitian pearls without compromise. 


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