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Understanding Pearls

Pearl Classification and Grading

For more than 100 years, discoveries in pearl culturing have revolutionized the market and essentially replaced natural pearls in jewelry.

A natural pearl occurs when an irritant, such as a parasite, works its way into a particular species of oyster, mussel or clam. In defense, the mollusk secretes fluid, called nacre, to coat the irritation. Over time, layers of nacre form natural pearl. In cultured pearls, the irritant is a surgically implanted bead or bit of shell.

The ability to consistently generate what was once a rare phenomenon has created a much wider audience for the appreciation and purchase of pearls. But it has also led to confusion about levels of quality and how to determine them. Cultured pearls are produced in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes and grading has become proportionately complex.

In response, a standard for describing pearl quality was launched in 1998, and  is based on 7 Pearl Value Factors: size, shape, color, luster, surface quality, nacre quality, and matching.

Akoya Pearls

If you’re looking for the classic set of pearls, look to Akoya cultured pearls. The Akoya is the most popular pearl, commonly seen in pearl strands and in earrings.

Akoya pearls are the specialty of Japanese pearl farms. The first pearls to be cultured early in the 1920s, their white color and rosé overtone complement a fair complexion. Because Akoya pearls are a high-quality pearl, you’ll find them set with gold posts and clasps, and you’ll find they are well matched for size, shape, and color. You’ll also find few blemishes and a deep, beautiful luster.

You may notice that the Akoya looks very similar to the Freshwater pearl. When compared side-by-side, the difference is clear. Akoya pearls are on average larger, smoother, rounder, and more lustrous than Freshwater pearls. If you’re looking for a remarkable gift, choose a gift of Akoya cultured pearl jewelry.

 

pearl
Akoya Cultured Pearls

LUSTER

Very High – Extremely high reflections

SURFACE

Flawless to Very Slightly Spotted – Very, very few natural blemishes visible to the unaided eye

NACRE

Very Thick – Very deep nacre coating

SHAPE

Round – all pearls are round and symmetrical to the unaided eye

COLOR

White – With rose’ or silver overtones

Cultured Pearls Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater cultured pearls make an excellent, affordable gift of good quality pearls.

As opposed to rice-shaped Freshwater pearls, these pearls are mostly round, and look very similar to Akoya pearls when worn, but are available for a much lower price.

Most Freshwater pearls come from China, and are the product of an elaborate process in which a single resilient mussel can be harvested many times, yielding several pearls at a time. To provide these pearls at an exceptional value, we offer them with good levels of quality, and set with 14k gold posts and clasps.

The Freshwater pearl looks remarkably similar to the Akoya pearl, but Freshwater pearls are available for almost 1/5 the price of Akoya pearls. The only tradeoff is that Freshwater pearls are generally smaller, less symmetrical, and not as well matched when strung on a strand. But if you’re looking for pearls at an outstanding value, Freshwater pearls are the perfect gift.

Colored Freshwater Cultured Pearls

Freshwater cultured pearls can be created in a spectrum of colors. Many popular Colors – white, pink, orange, and other pastels – can be achieved through natural means, including the pearl mollusk’s genetics, what they eat, and the amount and type of trace metals in the cultivating environment.

It is a widely-accepted practice to treat or irradiate Freshwater pearls in order to achieve a particular or unusual color, and equally common to treat Freshwater pearls to create a more evenly-colored strand. Pearl colors should always be chosen to complement the wearer’s complexion and wardrobe preferences.

From a value standpoint, when selecting colored pearls it is important to understand if the color is natural or the result of some post-harvesting treatment. For example, Tahitian pearls, cultivated in black lipped oysters, are the only naturally occurring charcoal to black pearls. It should be made clear to you that other pearls exhibiting these colors have been treated, and that fact reflected in a lower cost.

Tahitian Pearls

 

tahitian pearls

Tahitian cultured pearls offer a dramatic touch. The natural black color of these pearls comes from the color of the oyster’s black lips.

These pearls are traditionally called “black,” but their color can range from a metallic silver, to the color of graphite. And within this range of colors they can have bluish, purplish, or greenish overtones.

Tahitian cultured pearls are cultivated from the black-lipped variety of the pinctada maxima oyster which reaches a foot or more in diameter, and produces very large pearls. This oyster is very sensitive to the pearl culturing process, which makes the pearls very costly to produce. A gift of Tahitian cultured pearls makes an extraordinary, unique gift.

South Sea Pearls

South Sea cultured pearls are exceptional quality pearls with a whitish, almost silver color.

Much larger than the average pearl, the smoothness and roundness of these pearls are exceptional. These are the most rare and extraordinary pearls you’ll find in jewelry.

South Sea pearls come from the white-lipped variety of the pinctada maxima oyster. This oyster is much larger than the oysters that produce Akoya and Freshwater pearls, so the pearl that it produces is much larger as well. Because of the rarity and sensitivity of this type of oyster, cultivation of these pearls is much more difficult, making them more expensive.