Have you ever wondered how to choose pearls?
The spectacular beauty that Mother Nature creates never ceases to amaze me. Pearls are a true natural phenomenon with a magical, shimmering allure, but if you wanted to buy them, how do you go about choosing?
Pearls come in such a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. They’ve been worn, coveted and collected since ancient times.
Nowadays almost all pearls are cultured. Natural pearls, meaning pearls that have been created in nature without interference by man, are extremely rare due to overfishing and oil rigging.
The ancient Chinese were the first to discover how to grow cultured pearls. They learned that by implanting a tiny piece of pearl mantle tissue into an oyster, it was possible to jumpstart the pearl making process. Over time Japanese scientists perfected this system by identifying which strains of oysters had the best pearl bearing qualities. They also found that inserting round beads into the oyster could help control the shape of the pearl.
Kokichi Mikimoto, often called “The Pearl King”, opened the world’s first cultured pearl store in Tokyo in 1899 and brought cultured pearls to a wider international audience soon after. His dream was to “Adorn the necks of all women around the world with pearls”. His company Mikimoto Pearls became one of the most successful and prestigious jewellery companies in history with his pearls adorning royalty, and the rich and famous.
Types of pearls
At Ixtlan Melbourne we’re always asked about what types of cultured pearls are available. You may have already heard about Akoya Pearls. These pearls produced by Japan’s Akoya oysters and are the most popular of all the pearl types. They measure between 3-10mm in size and come in a range of colours from white, cream, blue, pink, silver and light green.
South Sea Pearls are also well known. They start at about 8mm in round, oval, teardrop, or the more organic shaped Baroque Pearl. South Sea Pearls, produced in the waters around Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, come in a dazzling variety of colours, shimmering, opalescent whites, creams or silver and sometimes a deep yellowish orange. They can also include overtones of rose, green and blue.
Tahitian Pearls are cultivated around the islands of French Polynesia. These saltwater cultured pearls are highly sought after because they are larger, have exceptional luster, and produce a high percentage of perfectly round pearls. Of all the cultured pearls, Tahitian pearls have the most outstanding range of colours. How divine is the velvety midnight black? There’s also slate grey, vibrant peacock green, deep, rich aubergine, even a striking, vivid yellow.
Another important type is freshwater cultured pearls, usually sourced from freshwater lakes in China and the USA. While still exceptionally beautiful, they are more plentiful and therefore a much cheaper option. Freshwater pearls come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. High quality freshwater pearls can show overtones of rose, blue and green.
For more information on types of pearls visit GIA.
Quality of Pearls
The quality of a pearl is determined by its luster, shape, surface perfection and size.
Firstly, check the colour. Although white is the most classic hue, golden South Sea Pearls are the most expensive. White and golden South Sea Pearls also come in the largest size making them quite rare and therefore more valuable.
Then it’s luster, meaning its surface glow and the deep mirror like reflection. Pearls with high luster give off clear bright reflections, making them exquisite to look at!
The number of blemishes or marks on a pearl’s surface is also used to judge its overall quality. The highest quality of pearl is almost perfectly round, flawless and 95% of the surface will be free from any kind of defect.
Having said that, it’s important to know that real pearls are very rarely totally ‘perfect’. They’ll usually have small flaws or imperfections in their shape. Parts of a pearl will also reflect the light in a different way to other sections.
You can usually tell if a pearl is an imitation because they look too flawless -perfectly round, with the same luster over its entire surface, and showing no dents, grooves or defects.
How well pearls match in a strand or multi-pearl piece also affects the value.
Phianne & Paris