Pearl jewellery can be found in a wide range of designs, qualities, and prices. When buying pearls, retail and online shoppers can find pearl necklaces that range from just ten to tens of thousands of pounds in price. For this reason alone, buying pearl jewellery can be a daunting task.
Here are the first 5 of ten simple questions to ask to help find the right piece of pearl jewellery for you. The second 5 questions are here.
1. Are the pearls natural, cultured or imitation?
Natural pearls are real pearls formed in wild molluscs living in their natural habitat without any human intervention. Their rarity has made natural pearls highly valued and a collector’s gemstone. Cultured pearls are also real pearls, but are grown after a pearl farmer has stimulated the development of the pearl in the mollusc. Cultured pearls are iridescent gems that can be worn and enjoyed every day. Fake pearls are made with a coated glass bead and are fun accessories, but do not have the same organic or luxurious feel of natural and cultured pearls.
Most pearls sold in shops or online will be cultured or imitation pearls. Pearls that are described as being natural will generally not be.
2. Are the pearls freshwater or saltwater cultured pearls?
The majority of cultured pearls available in the fashion market today are Freshwater pearls and are produced in volume in freshwater mussels, mostly in China. Saltwater cultured pearls are produced in a different variety of oysters, chosen for their quality, size, shape and colour. Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea pearls are saltwater pearls. Fewer saltwater pearls are produced each year and their cost is more expensive than that of freshwater pearls.
If the origin of the pearls is not specified, or if the price is comparatively low, then assume the pearls are freshwater or imitation pearls.
3. What is the quality grading of the pearls?
Unlike the diamond industry that uses the GIA’s International Diamond Grading System (the 4Cs), there is no single accepted industry grading system for pearls. Beware of product descriptions that grade a pearl as AAA+ or AAAA as these have no real accepted meaning. Many factors will influence the value of a pearl and some of these are listed below.
Ask your retailer how a pearl is graded and assess their level of knowledge and expertise before buying pearls.
4. Are the pearls dyed?
The colour of a pearl will reflect the type of mollusc that the pearl was cultured in, but may also be as a result of certain dyes, treatments and enhancements. A Freshwater Pearl might be dyed black or peacock so as to mimic the natural colour of a black Tahitian Pearl. A colour treatment may be used to disguise the poor quality of a pearl’s lustre or surface. Pearl jewellery, in which the colour of the pearls is uniformly matched, will possibly be dyed.
Ask your retailer if the pearls have been treated for colour as many dyes will fade or change colour over time.
5. How sharp are the reflections in the pearl?
The intensity of a pearl’s reflections is known as lustre and is absolutely unique to pearls, different to any other gemstone. When grading pearls, highly valued pearls will have a mirror-like, sharp and shiny lustre. Poor quality pearls without lustre will be dull, opaque and lifeless.
Lustre is one of the most important reasons for the differences in price between one pearl and another. Look for pearls within your budget that have the best lustre, as these will complement your skin and the face more beautifully.IMAGE CREDIT: Copyright of Winterson