A pearl's size is measured according to its diameter in millimeters. Sizes range from 1 millimeter or less, in the case of very tiny pearls, to as much as 20 millimeters (more than 3/4") for large South Sea pearls.
The Average Pearl Size Today Is Around 7 Millimeters
Most pearls sold today, however, are in the 7to 7.5-millimeter range. Akoya pearls greater than 8 millimeters are considered extremely rare. (The largest pearl an akoya oyster can produce is around 9 or 10 millimeters.) Pearls larger than 10 millimeters are generally not akoya pearls, but are instead: black Tahitians, white South Sea pearls, or large freshwater pearls.
A 6 mm and a 12 mm pearl. Image courtesy of PearlParadise.com.
The Larger The Pearl Size, The Greater The Likely Value
Generally speaking, the larger the size of the pearl, the greater its value (all other factors being equal.) Larger pearls not only require larger oysters to produce them, but they require much more time to develop inside the oyster. An "average" pearl can take 2-3 years to develop. Significantly larger pearls can take twice as long. In addition, because it is difficult to maintain a perfectly spherical shape while the pearl develops, large round pearls are extremely rare and valuable.
Pearl Sizes Will Vary In Strands
When shopping for pearls it is important to note that strands are rarely of uniform size. The internationally recognized standard for measuring akoya pearls will always have a .5 mm differential within an individual strand. Per industry standards today, a strand measuring 7.5 mm will actually be composed of pearls measuring 7-7.5 mm. This should be noted in any appraisal or description of the pearls. The smaller pearls will be located near the clasp, and the larger pearls will be in the center of the necklace. This is considered a uniform strand, not a graduated strand.
Freshwater Pearl Sizes Are Often Measured In Full Millimeters
Freshwater pearls are more often given a full millimeter range of size. For example, a strand of 8 mm freshwater pearls may be measured 7-8 mm in size. This is not an absolute standard, however, as many high-quality freshwater pearls are sized similar to akoya pearls with a mere .5 mm differential.
Pearl Sizes In Some Strands May Be Slightly Graduated
Tahitian and South Sea pearls are typically measured individually, but to be considered a uniform strand there may still be up to a 1 mm differential from the clasp to the center of the necklace. For example, a 9-10 mm strand of Tahitian pearls is considered a uniform strand, but an 8-10 mm strand is considered slightly graduated.
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