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The Wide World of Pearls, Our 94th Issue: How to Evaluate Pearl Quality


Pearls of Joy Pearl Quote of the Week: "My dream is to adorn the neck of all women around the world with pearls." - Kokichi Mikimoto



Eye Candy

Weekly Eye Candy Spotlight: Metallic Drop-Shape Edison Rainbow Necklace 


This stunning drop-shaped metallic Edison Freshwater necklace measured 14 -15mm in size! The color saturation and metallic luster combined with larger than life sizes made this layout a tempting treat! 



You Asked ...

Every day we receive questions from customers all over the world about pearls. We decided to post our answers here for every one to read!

How can I tell if a pearl is high quality?

 How to Tell if a Pearl is High Quality


We Answer:

There are several factors to consider when evaluating pearl quality; we call each of these factors a pearl's Value Factors.
The Value Factors are Luster Grade, Pearl Size, Shape, Surface Quality, Color and Nacre Thickness. 
We'll examine each of these factors briefly so you can become more comfortable with examining pearls on your own and determining whether a pearl is of high quality.

Evaluating Pearl Quality: Luster

Pearl Luster

Luster is arguably THE MOST important aspect of a pearl’s value, beating out surface quality, symmetry of shape, size and color by a mile. If a pearl doesn't have nice luster, it just isn't going to be worth much. Luster is one of the famous “Value Factors” that jewelers, pearl specialists and appraisers use to grade pearls.

Pearl luster has three components:

  • Luster measures the rate of light reflecting off the surface of the pearl.
  • Luster measures the sharpness of reflection visible on its surface.
  • Luster also measures how well light beams break up through the nacre layers to refract back at the viewer, giving very fine quality pearls a subtle “glowing” aspect.

All four of the major pearl types require a rating of “High to Very High” luster in order to be graded “AAA Quality”. However, each pearl type plays with light in its own unique way and should be evaluated on a scale that takes that into account.

Evaluating Pearl Quality: Surface Quality 

Pearl Surface Quality

No two pearls are alike, and one of the factors that makes each different is its surface quality. Virtually no pearl is perfect, and any flawless specimens are treasures

The majority of pearl buyers will have a degree of surface imperfections on their gemstones. Pearl aficionados know that even the finest pearls will have irregularities on the surface. The key factors to surface quality irregularities are how noticeable they are and if they seriously affect the durability of the pearl.

Serious surface quality issues are usually chips and gaps, which will lower the value of even the most lustrous pearls. Why? These particular imperfections can cause the pearl to crack or peel. Other characteristics include:

  • Abrasions - scratches or scuffs that affect the luster or color of the pearl.
  • Spots - minor color variations.
  • Bumps - tiny bubbles on the surface of the pearl
  • Wrinkles - where the nacre isn't smooth.

Some surface characteristics are hardly noticeable, even to a pearl expert. A good example would be a minor flaw near the hole drilled in the pearl.


Evaluating Pearl Quality: Nacre Thickness


Nacre Thickness

Nacre is the substance from which pearls are made. Since nacre determines luster, nacre quality is a critical factor when determining a pearl's value. Generally speaking, the thicker the nacre, the more valuable the pearl. Thick nacre not only looks better than thin, it also is much more durable.

Nacre quality is usually broken up in three categories:

  • Acceptable - This pearl isn't chalky. The nacre is usually uniformly thick enough that you cannot see the nucleus, the bead placed in the oyster or mussel to cause it to create nacre. A slight "blink" or glimpse of the nucleus is permissible.
  • Nucleus Visible - This pearl shows strong blinking, a flickering of darker and lighter, when you rotate it. The flicker of dark is the nucleus, which can be quite noticeable in thin-nacre pearls.
  • Chalky Appearance - a dull and whitish pearl. The thin nacre on these gems never developed that glow that makes a pearl special.

Important to Know! If dealing with quality pearls, they should fall into the "acceptable" category.

Evaluating Pearl Quality: Color


Pearl Color

The world of pearls is filled with color... From classic white, yellow, golden, pink, blue to black and almost every shade in between. There's more to pearls than Grandma's old white strand of pearls.
  1. White pearls are easily the most famous of all the pearl colors, bar none. White is considered the most classic and versatile, and for centuries has been a favorite of women and brides.
  2. Black pearls are the second most popular pearl color for pearl lovers. Black pearls conjure up thoughts of swashbuckling pirates, tropical islands and of course, buried treasure. Black is considered to be mysterious, chic, striking and very versatile, making them a modern staple for any jewelry box.
  3. Golden South Sea pearls have only been available to pearl lovers since the late 1970s, and are known as the “Rolls Royce” of cultured pearls. Lesser known, but still beautiful in their own right are naturally-colored Golden Akoya pearls, primarily from Vietnam.
  4. Lavender pearls are one of three natural Freshwater pearl colors that the Freshwater pearl mussel produces. A soft, feminine color, Lavender pearls are a fashionable and romantic way to add a splash of unique color to any jewelry collection.
  5. Pink and Peach pearls both fall under the same color of Pink/Peach, but for our purposes we will separate them out into two color categories. Soft, pastel and feminine, the Pink and Peach Freshwater pearls are a pretty and flirty way to add a touch of romance to any wardrobe.
  6. Naturally colored blue pearls are the rarest pearl colors in the world (with one or two exceptions, which we will get to below). The color has existed in pearls for decades, but only recently have naturally colored blue pearls gained popularity in the modern pearl jewelry markets.


Evaluating Pearl Quality: Shape


Pearl Shape

Close your eyes, and picture in your mind a pearl necklace. We’d bet $100 that what you envisioned is the classic white Akoya pearl necklace, perfectly round in shape. But what if we told you it doesn’t have to be that way? 

Shape is one of the more important Value Factors that jewelers use to grade and value pearls.

The gold standard when it comes to pearl’s shapes is of course perfectly Round. It is the rarest and the most valuable in addition to the most “classic” shape for most pearl shoppers.

But beyond Round, what you are looking for in a nice-looking pearl shape are characteristics like smooth, symmetrical shapes. For this reason, smooth Drop Shaped pearls are the next most valuable pearl shape. Baroque pearls are generally considered the least valuable pearl shapes, but quite often baroques are highly collectible due to their unique nature.

Choosing the right pearl shape is often a case of “you know it when you see it”, but here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.

If you’re after a strictly “Classic” look, True Round pearls are the way to go. We recommend checking out Akoya pearls, Gem Grade Freshwater pearls and Round Tahitian and South Sea pearl necklaces.

If you still want that high-end Round pearl necklace look, but not the price tag, it is worth the time and effort to seriously consider Near-Round and Button-Shape strands.

Choose Drop-Shaped pearl necklaces if you want to slip into something unique but that still retains a romantic, chic aesthetic. Drops are also a great way to indulge in high-end Tahitian or South Sea pearls without that premium price tag that True Round pearls have.

Go for Baroque if you’re looking for something totally one of a kind, and you already have “the staples” covered. Whether they’re more classically Baroque shapes, heavily Circled pearls or you like looking at the wild child of pearls, the Free Form Baroque, your options are endless and endlessly entertaining.

Evaluating Pearl Quality: Size 

Pearl Size

Cultured pearls are measured in millimeters. Akoya pearls are measured in half-millimeter sizes … Akoya pearl necklaces, bracelets, earrings and pendants will feature sizes like 6.0 - 6.5 mm, 6.5 – 7.0 mm, 7.0 – 7.5 mm and so on.

Tahitian, South Sea and Freshwater pearls are all measured in whole-millimeter increments. Earringspendantsrings will feature size listings like 10.0 – 11.0 mm, 11.0 – 12.0 mm, 12.0 – 13.0 mm and the like.

A half-millimeter increase doesn’t sound like a lot at first, but that extra volume can really add up. Each increase in size generally translates to about a 15-20% jump in size.

Akoya pearls are one of the smallest cultured pearl types and can range in size from tiny 1.0 mm seed pearls up through 9.5 mm, and rarely 10.0 mm at their largest. The most popular and common sizes are 6.0 – 6.5 mm up through 9.5-10.0 mm.

Other items that can be used to help visualize pearl sizes are a #2 pencil, which is 4.25 mm in diameter, so a 6.0 – 6.5 mm pearl will be slightly larger than a pencil eraser. A marble measures about 10.0 mm, so the largest 9.5 mm Akoya pearl earring will be slightly smaller than that.

The most popular Akoya pearl sizes for necklaces, bracelets and earrings are generally 6.5 - 7.0 mm, 7.0 – 7.5 mm and up through 8.0 – 8.5 mm.


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