Types of Pearls
This is the most familiar type of pearl sold in necklaces. Akoyas from Japan and China are grown in oysters and are known for their shimmering beauty and warm colors. These range from rose, cream and gold, to silvery white and blue/gray.
These are cultured pearls that are asymmetrically shaped, yet often lustrous and appealing. Due to their shapes, baroque pearls are often less costly than cultured round pearls.
These pearls are cultivated in mussels, in freshwater lakes and rivers in China, Japan and the United States. Due to their easy cultivation, freshwaters are fairly inexpensive. Shapes can be freeform, rice shaped, off-round or spherical, and colors range from milky white, to peach, pink, and lavender.
These large, semi-circular cultured pearls are grown against the inside shells of oysters, instead of in the oysters’ bodies. They are less expensive than round cultured pearls due to their half-round shape, and they are most popular in earrings, rings and brooches.
These are extra-large (10mm and up) cultured pearls grown in tropical and semi-tropical oysters in the South Seas, and around the coast of Australia. Their color ranges from silvery white to gold. They are quite costly due to their size and rarity.
These are also extra-large (10mm and up) cultured pearls grown in black-lipped oysters in French Polynesia. Colors range from silvery gray and green to deep purple and black. Their large sizes and unique colors constitute premium prices.
What determines a pearl’s worth?
Cultured pearls are measured by their diameter in millimeters. They can be smaller than one millimeter, or as large as 20 millimeters for a big South Sea pearl. With all other quality factors being equal, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it will be. The most popular size of pearl sold around the world is approximately seven millimeters.
Pearl shapes range in descending order of value from round to semi-round, from off round to oval and from drop to baroque. It’s important to understand that in pearl industry lingo, the shapes from round to drop are generally pretty symmetrical, while anything baroque symbolizes a pearl that is completely asymmetrical.
Cultured pearls come in a variety of colors from rose to black. While the color of a pearl is really a matter of the wearer’s preference, usually rose or silver/white pearls tend to look best on fair skin, while cream and gold toned pearls are flattering to darker complexions. There are also multi-colored pearl strands that have recently increased in popularity.
Because cultured pearls are grown naturally from oysters in nature, it is rare to find a pearl whose surface is free from any type of blemish. Blemishes can include disfiguring spots, bumps, pits, and cracks on the surface of a pearl. The fewer blemishes on the surface of a pearl, the more valuable it will be.
Here are examples of a range of cultured pearl surface quality. The pearl on the far left has a damaging pinhole. Beside it is a pearl with a damaging chip and crack. The middle pearl contains non-damaging bumps and pits. The next one has non-damaging wrinkles, and the final pearl on the right is blemish-free.
For cultured pearl experts, lustre is perhaps the most important indicator in evaluating cultured pearl quality. Lustre is what separates the inferior pearl from the superior and the ordinary from the extraordinary. Lustre is what many experts term the heart and soul of the sea-grown gem. Throughout history, this unique lustre has separated pearls from all other gems. Lustre is the combination of surface brilliance and a deep glow that seems to originate from within the heart of a pearl. The lustre of a good quality pearl should be bright, not dull, enabling you to see your own reflection clearly on the surface of a pearl. A pearl that appears too white, dull or chalky, indicates poor quality.
When buying a strand of cultured pearls, matching is very important. All the pearls in a good quality strand should be evenly matched in terms of luster, surface, shape, color and size. Making up a simple, well-matched 16-inch pearl strand, entails pearl growers to harvest about 10,000 oysters in order to find enough pearls that match closely enough. They are more expensive, but you get what you pay for.