Pearls: What to Look For
When choosing a pearl, you will probably notice that prices vary quite considerably, and it is not always immediately obvious why there should be such variation. In the second of our blogs about pearls this June we focus on some of the factors to consider when making your choice.
Initially, you will see that freshwater cultured pearls cost less than saltwater cultured pearls. One of the reasons for this is that multiple freshwater pearls may be grown at the same time in the same mussel whereas saltwater cultured pearls can only be grown singly. You can learn more about this in our previous post.
When you first start looking at pearls you will notice that they come in a wide range of shades: it is like going to a DIY store and discovering that there is an entire shelf of cream paints! Pearls have quite complex colours with a body colour and overtones of secondary hues. White or cream may err towards yellowish or pinkish appearances for example; pink overtones are considered more desirable that yellow ones, unless the pearl is a distinctly golden South Sea. Black pearls are really a grey colour and will often have overtones of purple or green; these are considered a desirable feature unless very dominant. Some pearls may display a characteristic iridescent effect known as orient with shimmering colours appearing to float across the surface; this can be particularly attractive and even increase the value of an otherwise unattractive pearl.
The most desirable shape for a pearl is perfectly round and the price usually will fall as the shape moves further away from this ideal. Pearls with overall good symmetry are sought after in a variety of shapes: off-round to button shape pearls with a round outline but flatter shape are particularly suited to stud earrings as they can sit a little more neatly on the ear, while symmetrical drop-shaped pearls are perfect for earrings or pendants and can be valued highly if their shape is very attractive. Unusual, baroque shapes can be particularly affordable and give a more relaxed look; they make a good choice if you want a less formal necklace for instance.
A perfectly smooth surface is desirable in a pearl, but most will have blemishes of some kind. These can range from tiny indentations through to significant ridges that also alter the shape of the pearl. Minor blemishes can sometimes be hidden by placing a drill hole or setting in the correct position, while major ridges or chips can be more problematic and decrease beauty and value considerably.
Pearls have a lustre that is aptly described as ‘pearly’. However, it can still vary with some pearls having a more intense and highly reflective glow while others approach a more matte look. A higher lustre is usually associated with thicker nacre layer and a smoother surface and these pearls are more desirable. If the pearl looks dull this can be because the nacre is quite thin which can reduce the durability as well as the beauty of the pearl.
As you can probably imagine, matching gemstones that have so many variables is not straightforward, but it can make a big difference to the appearance of a finished piece. Traditionally pearl necklaces graduated in size although now they often feature an entire row of pearls of the same size. In addition to ensuring the colour and lustre match, to create an overall similar appearance, it is important to have pearls of the same size and shape for a smooth look around a necklace or balance in a pair of earrings. If you already have a piece of pearl jewellery and are looking to purchase another to match, it is really important to bring your existing piece with you so that a match, especially for colour, may be found.
Ultimately, you should choose the pearls that you find attractive and that fit your budget. If you are looking to purchase pearls, we have a wide range of pieces in our showroom, a selection of which are available to view on our website. If you have any questions about pearls or need further advice our experienced team of jewellers and qualified gemmologists will be happy to help.
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