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Pearl Quality


  • Pearl Quality

    Measuring Pearl Quality

    Pearl quality and thus, the value of a pearl is measured according to a combination of several varied factors are: the type of pearl, the thickness of its nacre, its luster, the cleanliness and texture of its surface, its shape, its color, and its size.
    Gem Grade Cortez Pearl

    Because the pearl is a naturally occurring organic gemstone, created by living creatures, these factors can and do vary widely. Although all of them affect the ultimate value of a given pearl, some of the factors are more objective, while others are more a matter of taste or preference.

    For a detailed reference, we recommend the Pearl Education section of Pearl Paradise.

    Pearl Quality Is Determined by Many Factors

    The type of pearl is the most basic factor to consider: Is this pearl a freshwater pearl, an akoya pearl, a South Sea pearl, or some other variety?

    Each type of pearl is created by a distinct species of oyster, usually living in a different region of the world and under varying climatic conditions. All these factors have an impact on the characteristics of the resulting pearl.

    Most types of pearl are used extensively in pearl jewelry. Some types of pearls are much rarer than others, increasing their value significantly for that reason alone.

    Other types are more common, meaning that the pearl's ultimate desirability and value will be determined by factors other than the type. South Sea and Tahitian pearls are larger than akoyas, and each type tends to have its own distinctive range of colors.

    How Different Species of Oyster produce different Pearl Qualities

    Saltwater mollusks will only produce 1-2 pearls per typical nucleation. Akoya may be nucleated with up to 5 beads, but the use of up to 2 is most common. The akoya oysters are short-lived, and die during harvest.

    South Sea and Tahitian mollusks (Pinctada margaritifera and Pinctada maxima) accept only one nucleus at a time, but are long-lived (up to 30 years) and since they are not harvested when the pearl is, they may be re-nucleated several times. If a particular mollusk has been successfully nucleated several times and consistently produces fine pearls, the mollusk is often returned to the wild to strengthen the genes of future generations of spat.

    Nacre Quantity increases Pearl Quality

    Nacre is the substance from which the pearl is created. Pearl characteristics such as color and luster are characteristics of the nacre itself. In general, the thicker the nacre, the more valuable the pearl.
    Akoya Pearl Nacre Coating, courtesy of PurePearls

    Nacre coating is directly realted to the pearl's durability and beauty (luster). You measure a pearl's nacre thickness by measuring the amount of nacre deposited on top of the nucleus/bead.

    Luster Is an Important Factor in Pearl Quality

    A pearl's luster is a measure of its brilliance and reflectivity:
    • High-quality pearls are bright and shiny you should be able to see your reflection in them.
    • Lower-quality pearls have a more chalky or dull appearance.
    In general, saltwater pearls usually display better luster than freshwater pearls, but this has been changing rapidly in the last decade.

    A Clean Surface equals Higher Pearl Quality

    The appearance of the surface of the pearl is perhaps one of its most critical characteristics. The surface should be smooth and clean, without bumps, spots, discolorations, or other disfiguring characteristics. As noted, it should be shiny and reflective, rather than dull and chalky.

    How Different Shapes Affect Pearl Quality

    The shape of the pearl is one key area where "value" and personal taste may diverge. Perfectly round pearls are extremely rare, and therefore much more valuable..

    However, pearls come in a wide variety of interesting and unique shapes, and you may find some of these shapes even more appropriate to your own taste and personality.
    • Semi-baroque pearls are symmetrical and include: "button" (slightly flattened into a disk-like "button" shape); drops and oval shapes
    • ringed pearls exhibit a series of concentric indentations or rings; and
    • baroque pearls are abstract and asymmetrical.
    Many high-quality pearls can be found in these alternate shapes often at lower prices than a perfectly round pearl of the same quality and you may find the unique shape to be even more personally appealing and satisfying.
    Pearl Shapes

    How Color is Factored into Pearl Quality

    Pearl color is another area where the most "valuable" pearl may or may not be the most appropriate pearl for you as an individual.

    Pearl colors range across the entire spectrum from white to black. Some naturally occurring colors include silver, cream, champagne, gold, green, and blue.

    Note that the pearl's overtones are distinct from its basic color, and they allow pearls in the same color category to have much-different looks and hues.

    Although some colors are naturally rarer than others, and therefore more valuable, color is another factor where, all other things being equal, the "best" color for you is a matter of personal taste and what looks good on you as an individual.

    How Size is Factored into Pearl Quality

    Finally, the size of the pearl has a direct bearing on its value and price. Larger pearls command higher prices (again, with all other factors being equal).

    The size of a pearl is measured by its diameter in millimeters. Akoya pearls tend to be in the 6-8 millimeter range, while South Sea, Tahitian and freshwater pearls are usually larger, in the 9 to 20 mm range.

    Keshi pearls can be found in sizes between 3 to 16 mm, but they are usually smaller than their beaded counterparts, with Akoya and Cortez keshi being in the 2 to 6 mm range and Tahitian and South Seas keshi pearl in sizes between 5 and 10 mm. By contrast, tiny "seed pearls" can be 1 millimeter or less in diameter.

    Most pearls sold today tend to fall into the 6.5-10.0 millimeter range.

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