The South Sea Pearl Buyer's Guide

South Sea Pearls 101: Buying Guide              

White and Golden South Sea Pearls are widely known as the "queen of gems". Revered for their large, luxuriant sizes, glowing luster and natural, organic white and golden colors … South Sea pearls are have earned the moniker of both the Queen of Cultured Pearls (for White South Sea) and the Rolls Royce of Pearls (for Goldens) for pearl lovers the world over.

The South Sea Pearl Buyer’s Guide from Pearls of Joy has been written to fill you in on all the most important questions you have before buying these glamorous pearls. From analysis on their stunning colors, to farming locations and techniques, sizes, pearl grading and more, all your most pressing questions should be answered here.

Use the Table of Contents to jump to the topics that you want to read about the most, or read the entire South Sea Buyer’s Guide to get a broad overview of the most coveted and rare pearls in the world.


📢 Read More: How to Buy pearls

South Sea Pearl Basics

South Sea pearls are known worldwide for their natural colors of Silvery-White and Gold, and their extremely large sizes. These pearls are cultured in warm tropical waters of Northern Australia, Indonesia and The Philippines.

 

South Sea Pearl Types:Both White and Golden South Sea pearls are grown in the pinctada maxima saltwater pearl oyster, which grows to over a foot in diameter at maturity. The gold-lipped pearl oyster produces the Golden South Sea pearls, and the silver-lipped oyster produces White South Sea pearls.

Golden Pearls are From the Philippines:  Golden-lipped p. maxima pearl oysters can be and are found in Australia and throughout the South China seas. But the very finest examples of Golden South Sea pearls are known to come from the chain of islands in the Philippines.

White South Sea Pearls are from Australia: The best White South Sea pearl harvests are known to be produced by Australian farmers. That said, there are some smaller farms producing White South Sea pearls in the Philippine islands. That said, they’re known for producing pearls with a much warmer, creamier color.

Moderate to Very Large Sizes: Both White and Golden South Sea pearls are famous as being the largest of all cultured pearl types. Both White and Golden pearls generally start at 8 – 9 mm and regularly get as big as 17 mm … and larger, reaching over 20 mm at their biggest sizes.

Wide Variety of Pearl Shapes: As with all other pearl types, perfectly round pearls are the most highly valued, but both White and Golden South Sea pearls have a very wide variety of pearl shapes to choose from including baroques, drops, ovals, buttons and free-form baroques.

Natural Pearl Colors: Golden and White South Sea pearls are admired around the world for their totally natural, organic beauty. Their body colors are completely natural and stunning without any color-treatments or dyes of any kind.

Satin-Like Luster: Like Tahitian and Freshwater pearls, South Sea pearls offer up a softer, more satin-like luster that appears more to glow rather than shine with the mirror-like ref of say, the Japanese Akoya pearl type. This is generally due to their incredibly thick nacre, which is known to be 2 - 4 mm thick on average.

South Sea Pearl Basics - What You Need to Know

South Sea Pearl Value

South Sea pearls are bar none the most expensive cultured pearls you can buy today … but that doesn’t mean that their beauty is out of reach! Their rarity, large sizes, natural colors and radiant luster immediately attract pearl lovers of all stripes, and it is the mission of Pearls of Joy to ensure that the beauty of South Sea pearls is available and affordable for everyone to enjoy.

Use the South Sea Pearl Value Chart to get an average of the price ranges for South Sea pearl jewelry and what you can expect to spend.

*Please note brick and mortar retail pricing can be as much as 3-5X this pricing.

South Sea Pearl Jewelry Value

South Sea Pearl Jewelry Value Chart


SHOP Popular South Sea Pearls      

Where Do South Sea Pearls Come From?

Exotic and rare, the Golden and White South Sea pearl types are cultured in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the South China seas.

South Sea Pearl Farmers

Golden South Sea pearls are cultured in the pinctada maxima gold-lipped saltwater oyster, usually on pearl farms located in the tropical Philippine Islands. Nucleated oysters are carefully placed in mesh baskets, and suspended from floating rafts which allows them a clean ocean current to filter feed. Here a pearl farm worker checks on the oysters by pulling up the baskets for cleaning.

Sunset in the Philippine Islands

Sunset in the Philippine Islands can be an eye-poppingly beautiful affair. Pearl farming is hard work, but it has its perks ...

South Sea Pearl Oysters Ready for Nucleation

A close up of P. maxima oysters getting ready for nucleation. A mother of pearl bead nucleus is inserted into the oyster and is covered with a small piece of donor mantle tissue (thought to influence the pearl’s final color). The oyster then forms a pearl sac around the nucleus and begins producing pearly nacre in concentric layers around the bead. The oysters grow their pearls for 2-3 years before harvest, leaving the pearls with plenty of thick, lustrous nacre around their bead nucleus, averaging 2 – 4mm thickness in most cases.

A Golden-Lipped South Sea Pearl Oyster at Harvest Time

Here Kevin Canning shows off a gold-lipped South Sea pearl oyster, selected for use as a “donor” because of its fine golden colors. As a donor, the oyster’s mantle tissue is removed and carefully divided into 1 mm squares for use in “grafting” younger oysters ready for their bead nuclei. Notice the thick band of iridescent gold on the outer edge of its nacreous shell.

Checking Out the Long Lines at an Australian Pearl Farm
Check out that view! White South Sea pearls aremostly farmed along the northern coast of Australia in expansive bays. The oystersare suspended in mesh baskets and anchored using long-lines and floating buoys. This allows workers to easily check on the oysters to ensure that they stay healthy and clean. Australia produces the largest harvests and the finest White South Sea pearls in the world.
 
Luxury South Sea Pearl Necklaces at the Hong Kong Jewellery Show

The majority of each South Sea pearl harvests are sent to Japan and Hong Kong to make their debut at the Hong Kong Jewellery Show and industry auctions. These long, lustrous South Sea pearl necklaces seen here wholesale for close to $100,000 each.

In the Philippine Islands, pearl farms are located in sheltered coves and lagoons where the oysters can be protected from the open elements of the ocean.

White South Sea pearl farms are generally located in large bays off the Australian coasts … oysters are anchored on long-lines that allow them to drift with the ocean currents.

The pearls are harvested after a period of 2-3 years and have thick, beautiful and lustrous nacre, averaging 2 – 4mm in depth around their bead nucleus.

For both Australian and Philippine farmers, p. maxima oysters are nucleated 2 or 3 times over their lifetimes, with older oysters responsible for culturing the very largest pearls. After the last pearl harvest, the best oysters are released into the wild habitats … this ensures that the oysters can live out their retirement comfortably, and reintroduce their high quality genetics back into the environment.


South Sea Pearl Grading

Kevin Canning Grading and Matching Pearls

Our White and Golden South Sea pearls are graded using the A – AAA Grading System, just like all our other pearl types.

  • The A – AAA Grading System is converted from the lesser known A – D grading scale that Tahitian and South Sea pearl farmers regularly utilize to grade their pearls.
  • On the A – D scale, “A” represents the very best of each pearl harvest, and steps down with each grade, ending in “D” which represents the lowest, commercial quality pearls not suitable to use in fine pearl jewelry.
  • A note about “GEM” quality South Sea pearls … Gem Quality pearls are selected from “AAA” quality pearl lots because they are clearly the cream of the AAA crop. Technically, these pearls are “AAA” but due to their eye-clean surfaces, extremely sharp luster, thick nacre and smooth, symmetrical shapes, Gem Quality pearls are much rarer, and often reserved for pearl earrings & pearl pendants.

Pearl graders, jewelers and appraisers evaluate and price out pearls using the “7 Value Factors”, but the most important factors in pearl grading can be boiled down to just 5 attributes. The property of Shape is factored in for valuation, but weighted less heavily in overall grade because any shape can still be graded “AAA” as long as the other factors (surface quality, luster, etc) are there.

📢 Read More: How to Grade Pearls

South Sea Pearl Grading Factors:

    • Surface Quality
    • Luster
    • Color
    • Matching
    • Nacre Thickness

Use the accordion menu below to click any grade and view a visual representation of each grade and a breakdown for the major value factors:

Gem Quality

South Sea Pearl Grading: Gem Quality Pearls

Surface Quality: 95-99% Clean to the Eye. Necklace will appear clean to the eye upon close inspection. Magnification may reveal tiny inclusions less than 5% of total strand.

Luster: Excellent / Very Sharp. Detailed Reflections Visible in Surfaces

Color: Vivid, Saturated Body Colors and Intense Overtones

Matching: Near-Perfect to Perfect for Size, Shape, Body Color, Overtone, Surface Quality and Luster

Nacre Thickness: 2 - 4mm Minimum / Extremely Thick

AAA Quality

South Sea Pearl Grading: AAA Quality Pearls

Surface Quality: 90% Clean to the Eye. Close inspection will reveal shallow inclusions less than 5% of total strand, 1-2 Deep Inclusions Allowable.

Luster: Excellent to Very High / Moderately High to Highly Detailed Reflections Visible in Surfaces

Color: Saturated Body Colors and Very Bright to Intense Overtones

Matching: Very Good to Excellent Matching for Size, Shape, Body Color, Overtone, Surface Quality and Luster

Nacre Thickness: 2 - 4mm Minimum / Extremely Thick

AA+ Quality

South Sea Pearl Grading: AA+ Quality Pearls

Surface Quality: 75-80% Clean to the Eye. Casual inspection will reveal shallow inclusions less than 15% of total strand, 2-4 Deep Inclusions Allowable.

Luster: High to Very High / Good to Moderately Detailed Reflections Visible in Surfaces

Color: Moderately Saturated Body Colors and Bright Overtones

Matching: Very Good Matching for Size, Shape, Body Color, Overtone, Surface Quality and Luster

Nacre Thickness: 2 - 4mm Minimum / Extremely Thick

AA Quality

South Sea Pearl Grading: AA Quality Pearls

Surface Quality: 65-75% Clean to the Eye. Casual inspection will reveal inclusions less than 35% of total strand, Moderate and Deep Inclusions Allowable.

Luster: Medium to High / Low to Moderately Detailed Reflections Visible in Surfaces

Color: Moderately Saturated Body Colors and Fairly Bright Overtones

Matching: Good Matching for Size, Shape, Body Color, Overtone, Surface Quality and Luster

Nacre Thickness: 2 - 4mm Minimum / Extremely Thick

A Quality

South Sea Pearl Grading: A Quality Pearls

Surface Quality: 55-65% Clean to the Eye. Casual inspection will reveal inclusions less than 45% of total strand, Moderate and Deep Inclusions Allowable.

Luster: Low to Medium / Low to Moderately Detailed Reflections Visible in Surfaces

Color: Low to Moderately Saturated Body Colors and Overtones

Matching: Fair to Good Matching for Size, Shape, Body Color, Overtone, Surface Quality and Luster

Nacre Thickness: 2 - 4mm Minimum / Extremely Thick


South Sea Pearl Sizes

South Sea Pearl Sizes vs US Nickel
South Sea pearls are thelargest cultured pearl type of all, andtraditionally range from 8 - 9mm up through 16 – 17mmregularly. Sizes above 17 mm are rare, but obtainable on special request.
 
Average sizes for South Sea pearl jewelry range from 9 – 10mm through 13-14mm. For South Sea pearl earrings, the largest sizes for stud earrings tops out at 12 - 13mm.Anything larger than 13mm usually needs a dangle earring style to ensure that the weight isn’t too much for the earlobe.
 
About “Graduated” Sizes ... bothSouth Sea necklaces andTahitian pearl necklaces are often graduated.That means the pearl necklace willsteadily increase in size from the smallest pearls near the clasp to the largest in the center.Graduated pearl necklaces are mostcommonly seen today because they are easier and faster to match and complete.
 
Non-graduated necklaces arepearl necklaces that are all the same size within a 1 mm range (think 9 – 10 mm).Non-graduated South Sea pearl necklaces take much more effort, over a longer period of time to matchproperly.Matching is notjust done for shape, surface quality, luster and colors, but all the pearls need to stay within a 1.0mm size range. This makes non-graduated strands much rarer to come across, and more expensive.

The Perfect Pair of Pearls

Fine South Sea Pearls

The perfect pair of pearl earrings... Is it possible?


Fall in love with the satin luster and large size of our South Sea Pearl Earrings. Made from rare and sought after South Sea Pearls, these earrings are perfect for true pearl lovers. Our South Sea Pearl Earrings range from silver-white to dark gold in color.


South Sea Pearl Shapes

Like all other pearl types, the most valued and rare pearl shape for South Sea pearls is perfect rounds.

South Sea pearls offer an astounding variety of shapes that you may not be familiar with, but are sure to please. From smooth, symmetrical drops to off-round buttons, baroques, circled pearls and more Pearls of Joy offers something for everyone to love.

View the slideshow to see a sampling of the beauty and variety of South Sea pearl shapes:

South Sea Pearl Shapes: Perfectly Round Pearls

Perfectly round South Sea pearls are the most rare … and the most valuable. Perfectly round pearls account for only a tiny fraction of each pearl harvest.

South Sea Pearl Shapes: Drop-Shaped Pearls

Silky smooth, symmetrical “drop-shaped” South Sea pearls can be ovals, somewhat barrel-shaped and the romantic tear drop. Drop shape pearls have quite a bit of variation within the category, so the job of matching a perfect pair of tear drops becomes much more difficult.

South Sea Pearl Shapes: Off-Round Pearls

“Buttons” are off-round pearls that can appear round the eye from a distance, but reveal their slightly to visibly off-round shapes. Button-shaped pearls offer an excellent value as buyers can choose an off-round South Sea pearl necklace at a significant price reduction from perfectly round pearls.

South Sea Pearl Shapes: Baroque Pearls

Baroque pearls are pearl shapes that are heavily off-round and are about 40-60% of each pearl harvest. Baroque South Sea pearls are a fantastic way to enjoy your love of pearls, but with a twist. Baroque pearls include free-form, asymmetrical shapes and circled pearls, and can also feature funky knobs, tips, and other unique features.

Circled baroque pearls belong to the baroque shape family, but are distinct in that these pearls have rows and rows of concentric rings circled around the pearl’s surfaces. Named “Circles of Love” by Salvadore Assael, an original progenitor of Tahitian cultured pearls in the 1970s, circled pearls are enjoyed by pearl lovers looking for something seriously unique.

South Sea Pearl Shapes: Free Form Baroque Pearls

Free-form baroque pearl shapes are the free-wheeling, artistic eccentrics of the pearl world. Totally asymmetrical in form, free-form baroque pearls are often used to represent animals and mythical figures in couture South Sea pearl jewelry.


SHOP Popular South Sea Pearls      


South Sea Pearl Colors

South Sea Pearl Colors

White and Golden South Sea pearls are famous around the world for their dazzling and totally natural colors.

South Sea pearls are probably most known for their natural golden and silver-white hues (besides their larger than life sizes). The South Sea pearls offered at Pearls of Joy have completely natural colors and are never treated or enhanced in any way. Golden and White South Sea pearls offer a wide array of body color and overtone combinations that are guaranteed to dazzle pearl lovers of all stripes.

Pearl color is broken into two major parts:

Body Color and Overtone

Below we separate out White and Golden South Sea pearls into their respective color categories, and we can discuss each on their own merits.

White South Sea Pearl Body Colors

South Sea Pearl Body Colors

White South Sea pearls feature a white body color for the vast majority of pearls.

The white body colors may be “cool” which accounts for the majority of fine White South Sea pearls from Australia, or “warm” which you’ll encounter with White South Sea pearls cultured in the Philippines.

One exception to this is the silver-gray body color for blue-colored White South Sea pearls (also primarily from Australia).

White South Sea Pearl Overtones

Common White South Sea Pearl Overtones

White South Sea pearls traditionally feature three classic white pearl overtones: silver, cream and rose.

White South Sea Pearl Overtones: Silver Overtones
The silver overtone is the most widely available White South Sea pearl overtone. Silver is primarily produced by the pearl farms of Australia. This overtone can best be described as a bright, cool white.
 
The silver overtone looks beautiful on many complexions, but women with tan or Mediterranean complexions, or have brunette or black hair will do best wearing this overtone.
White South Sea Pearl Overtones: Cream Overtone

The cream overtones are most often a yellow-ish tint floating over a warm body color … think French Vanilla. It’s a very classic, traditional overtone and has warmth and depth, and may feature flashes of other colors like bright pink or purple in the right lighting conditions. Cream wears best on older women with gray hair, redheads and women with pink undertones to their complexions.

White South Sea Pearl Overtones: Rose

The rose overtone is highly sought after, and the rarest of all White South Sea pearl overtones. Rose can be warm or cool depending on the main body color of the pearl. With White South Sea pearls, the rose overtone is almost never very saturated (so don’t worry about getting “pink” pearls), and instead shows up as a pale pink sheen.

Rose overtones are very flattering, and work well for women with fair to medium complexions, blondes and brunettes.

South Sea Pearl Overtones: Silver-Blue

Silver-blue White South Sea pearls are a rare, fancy color, mostly known to pearl specialists and collectors. For Silver-blue South Sea pearls, the main body color will generally be a gray tone, and the overtone is an iridescent blue color. Pearls can range from gray to gray-blue to silver-blue.

Like other white pearl types, White South Sea pearls feature 3 traditional overtones:

  • Rose –rose overtones are the rarest overtone for White South Sea pearls, and typically show up as a pastel pink tint that appears to float over the core white body color.
  • Silver –silver overtones are the most prevalent overtone for White South Sea pearls, and help boost that “bright white” appearance these pearls are most known for. Silver shows up as a white sheen, tinged with blue.
  • Cream –cream is a “warm” overtone and shows up as a slight yellowish tint, usually over a warm white body color.

Golden South Sea Pearl Body Colors

Golden South Sea Pearl Body Colors

Golden South Sea pearls have natural golden colors that can range from pale lemon yellow to the darkest 24kt golden tones.

Golden South Sea pearls feature natural body colors in a wide range of golden hues.

The golden spectrum starts at very pale, lemon or sunshine yellows and gradually deepens to the darkest 24kt gold color that is so deep it can appear orange-tinted.

Pearl graders and jewelers will typically describe the depth of color using metal gold hallmarks to aid in visualizing what these colors look like in real life. So, 10kt golden tone would be a very pale, light gold, 14kt would be a medium golden tone, 18kt is a deep gold tone and 24kt is the deepest, most saturated golden tone.  

Golden South Sea Pearl Overtones

Golden South Sea Pearl Overtones Offer Variety

Golden South Sea pearls feature a rather muted range of overtones which include neutral gold, silver, rose and bronze/green.

Golden South Sea Pearl Overtones: Rose

A stunning AAA quality Golden South Sea pearl necklace with an 18kt deep golden body color with a slight rose overtone.

Golden South Sea Pearl Overtones: Green and Bronze

These deep 24kt gold tone South Sea pearls feature neutral gold and bronze overtones.

Golden South Sea pearl overtones tend to be less intense than the other pearl types because the primary body color of the pearl is so brightly colored.

The main overtones you should know about are:

  • Neutral Gold – exactly what it sounds like, neutral gold overtone is transparent and does not effect the main body color of the pearl in any way. This is the most common Golden South Sea pearl overtone.
  • Silver – the second most common Golden South Sea pearl overtone. Silver is a pale white sheen that shimmers over the main golden body color of the pearl.
  • Rose – rose is a pinkish tinge over the main golden body color, and can help enhance the pearl’s warmth and wearability.
  • Bronze/Green – bronze overtones are one of the most interesting, unique and complex overtones available … and also one of the most difficult to wear.

Caring for South Sea Pearls

How To Care for South Sea Pearls

South Sea pearls have extremely thick nacre, and will maintain their luster and beauty for many years all on their own. Below is a list of 8 simple rules to follow to care for your South Sea pearls.

Pearls on Last: make sure that your pearl jewelry is the last part of your outfit you put on. This is after all cosmetics, perfumes, hairspray, etc., and then the pearls can be added. This gives the pearls a chance to avoid being exposed to any chemicals and possibly discoloring over time.

After Care: after you’re done wearing your pearls for the day, it’s a good practice to wipe them down with a soft, slightly damp cloth. This helps remove any residues like sweat, oil or other chemicals they may have picked up from the day.

Storing Necklaces: it’s best to lay your necklaces down flat in your jewelry box rather than hang them on a hook when you’re done wearing them, as this stops the silk knotting from stretching out in between each pearl. Pearls should be stored away from other jewelry with sharp metal components to prevent surface scratches.  

Restring Your Pearls: another great way to keep your pearl necklaces and bracelets looking their best is to get them professionally restrung once a year to once every two – three years or so, depending on often you wear them. Restringing your pearls keeps the knots fresh, tight and non-frayed.

Avoid Swimming and Showers: while pearls were born in the water, modern additives like chlorine is really not ideal for pearls. In addition to possibly discoloring the pearls due to repeated, long-term exposure, the chemicals in the water also eat holes in the adhesives used to secure pearl pendants, earrings and rings to their mountings. Remove your pearl ring and set it in a safe place before washing your hands or doing the dishes as well.

Avoid Harsh Chemical Exposure: other chemicals can also harm your delicate pearls … avoid exposure to hydrogen peroxide, chemical bleaches and other dyes.

Avoid Storage Deposit Boxes or Airtight Containers: Pearls require moisture in order to retain their beauty and structural integrity, so airtight environments are deadly to pearls. There have been stories of pearls left in bank deposit boxes for safekeeping, only to open the box twenty years down the line to find pearl dust.

Wear Your Pearls: Like we said, pearls love moisture and will benefit from absorbing the oils in your skin, which will help moisturize the nacre layers and aragonite (think organic glue) holding the layers together, keeping everything nice and lustrous.


South Sea Pearl Jewelry Style Guide      

The Queen of Cultured Pearls is a luxurious and rare treasure to that too few women are lucky enough own.

South Sea pearl necklaces are typically single-strands (both perfectly round, drop and baroque shapes) measuring 18” in length, although customizing a strand to shorten or lengthen it is always possible. Each pearl necklace is individually double-knotted by hand and finished with a clasp of your choice. Shop the South Sea Pearl Necklace Collection here.

South Sea pearl earrings are an absolutely stunning addition to any pearl collection. From classic white and golden pearl stud earrings to dazzling dangle earrings and more, Pearls of Joy has an earring style and pearl size that is guaranteed to please. Shop the South Sea Pearl Earring Collection here.

South Sea pearl pendants are a staple for every woman’s jewelry box. Dazzle her imagination with a lustrous White or Golden South Sea pearl solitaire pendant or a luxurious diamond-accented design exclusive to Pearls of Joy. Shop the South Sea Pearl Pendant Collection here.

A South Sea pearl ring is truly an unforgettable gift. From classic pearl solitaire rings to sparkling diamond and pearl engagement ring styles and more, Pearls of Joy has a beautiful and unique ring design that is sure to bring a smile to your face every time you look down at your finger. Each South Sea pearl ring is handmade to order and mounted with a AAA quality White or Golden South Sea pearl. Shop the South Sea Pearl Ring Collection here.

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