Perhaps the most popular gem of all time, June’s birthstone–the pearl–is as versatile as they come. Considered by many to be a staple of every woman’s wardrobe, the pearl is quite likely the earliest gem used for adornment. Our early ancestors foraged seashores and riverbeds collecting mother of pearl shells for ceremony and exchange – and when the rare pearl was found, it became a sacred possession.
Thanks to advances in modern culturing techniques, pearls are one of most accessible gems worldwide. So if you’re shopping for pearls, use this buying guide to learn about the qualities essential to beautiful pearls and making an educated pearl purchase.
In general, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it is. Different varieties come in different sizes: Chinese Freshwater and South Sea cultured pearls are the largest, averaging 13mm in diameter.
Pearls come in seven basic shapes: round, near round, oval, button, drop, semi-baroque, and baroque. Perfectly spherical pearls and symmetrical drops are the most valued. There are exceptions though. Well-formed oval or baroque cultured pearls are also prized by pearl lovers. Some pearls have grooves or ridges around their circumference. These pearls are described as circled and they can occur in any shape.
The natural color of pearls results from a combination of several factors. The pearl’s body-color is its main color. This can be white, silver, cream-colored, gold, green, blue, or even black. The body-color is determined by the type of oyster or mollusk that produces the pearl (certain types of oysters generally produce pearls of certain colors), as well as the conditions of the water, and sometimes the type of nucleus which is implanted to stimulate the pearl’s creation.
Overtones are translucent colors, which sometimes appear on top of the pearl’s main body-color. These over-tones tend to alter the body-color somewhat, as well as adding depth and glow. A pearl may be white with rose overtones,for example. Some pearls have no overtones at all.
The term orient refers to the shimmering, iridescent colors, which appear to move and glitter when the pearl is turned. This phenomenon is caused by the way in which light is reflected through the various thin layers of nacre, which make up the pearl.
Of all the qualities that make a beautiful pearl, luster might be the most important. Luster is what gives a natural or cultured pearl its unique beauty. Pearls with high luster have sharp bright reflections on the surface. Different pearl varieties have different standards for luster.
If surface characteristics, such as abrasions or scratches, are numerous or severe, they can affect the durability of the pearl and severely depress its value. Surface characteristics have less effect on the pearl’s beauty and value if they are few in number, or if they are minor enough to be hidden by a drill whole or a mounting.
Pearl Nacre Thickness:
Luster and nacre quality are closely related. If the nucleus is visible under the nacre, the pearl has a dull, chalky appearance, you can assume that the nacre is thin. This affects the luster as well as the durability of the pearl. Nacre thickness is evaluated to make sure that cultured pearls are durable as well as beautiful.
Natural pearls are so rare to find in nature that most pearls sold today are cultured. To create a cultured pearl, a tiny bead is implanted into the oyster and gradually over time the oyster coats the bead in many layers of natural minerals and proteins. These layers are referred to as nacre (Nay-Ker.) It is the nacre that gives pearls their beautiful luster and color.
Choosing the Right Pearl
There are different varieties of cultured pearls including, Freshwater, South Sea, Akoya, and Tahitian. Pearls can be fashioned into a number of different styles of jewelry including studs, fashion earrings, strands, necklac-es, pendants and bracelets. The type of pearl has a large impact on the price range.