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Learn About Pearls

At The Pearls Beds
Learning about pearls will help you make a choice you can enjoy for a lifetime and will help you appreciate the unique qualities of the pearls you use.

Pearl types and shapes

When you think of a pearl the first shape and color that comes to your mind is round and white. But if you lived in Tahiti you might initially think of a dark grayish pearl and it wouldn't necessarily be round. If you lived in China, you might first think of a crinkled irregularly shaped pearl. Pearls come in a wide range of shapes, types, and colors.

Judging Shape

Throughout history, round has generally been considered the most valuable shape for a pearl. Perhaps this was because pearls were considered a symbol of the moon. Nevertheless, the most famous and valuable pearls are often not round. That's because factors such as size and luster are also important. Luster refers to the light reflected off the internal layers of nacre. A lustrous pearl has more than just a shiny, reflective surface. It also has a glow from within.

What is Pearl Luster?

Pearls are formed as the mollusk (oyster) secretes layers of a protective, pearly substance called nacre (pronounced NAY-ker) around an irritant. The luster of a pearl depends on the quality of the nacre, its transparency, smoothness, overall thickness as well as the thickness of each of the microscopic layers of nacre. The most important quality of a pearl is the thickness of its nacre. It gives color, luster, and appearance. A thinly coated pearl won't last many years.

Care of Pearls

Pearls are among the softest of all gems, and normal body fluids, as well as contact with perfumes, hairsprays, and acids reduce nacre.

Pearl Colors
Pearl colors

When deciding what color pearls to buy, your primary concern should be what looks best on you. But you will also want to know how the color affects their price. When judging color, keep in mind that their is no standardized system of communicating or grading color in the pearl industry. And there is no general agreement in the trade as to how overtones affect price. Some of the determinants of pearl color seem to be: The type of host oyster. The quality of the nacre. The environment.

Judging Flaws

There is no such thing as a perfect rose. If you were to look closely at a rose, you would probably notice some brown spots, small holes, or torn edges. You would ultimately select the rose on the basis of its overall attractiveness. If you were buying just one rose, you would most likely examine it more closely and expect it to have fewer flaws than the roses in a bouquet. Judging pearls is much the same. Our standards of perfection for a single pearl are normally higher than for a strand. But whether we are dealing with roses or pearls, we should expect nature to leave some sort of autograph. When dealing with diamonds and colored stones, gemologists use the term "blemish" when referring to surface flaws such as scratches and bumps. the term "Inclusion" refers to flaws that extends below the surface such as cracks and holes. "blemish" takes on a different meaning when used with pearls. It means any kind of flaw, internal or external. Flaws can be positive features. They serve as identifying marks that a gem is ours and not somebody else's. They help prove that it is real and not imitation. Perfection does not seem to be a goal of nature. In fact, the longer a pearl is in an oyster, and the bigger the pearl, the more likely it is for irregularities to occur. Therefore, when shopping for pearls, there's no need to look for flawless ones. You just need to know what types of flaws to avoid.

Determining Which Flaws Are Acceptable and Which Aren't

It is not the presence of flaws that matters. It's the type, quantity, and prominence of the flaws that does. Just as diamonds with big chips are considered unacceptable, so are pearls with chunks of missing nacre. Both the beauty and durability of the pearl are affected.
Pearls are graded and valued on the basis of how they look to the naked eye, not under magnification. Keep in mind that its normal for pearls to have a few flaws. The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) takes this into consideration in the way they define their "flawless" category for pearls on a strand. "Most appear blemish-free to the unaided eye." It would be abnormal for all of the pearls to be flawless. An anecdote by Kunz & Stevenson in The Book of the Pearl illustrates this.

"A pearl necklace valued at $200,000, shown at one of our recent great expositions, was, to all appearances, a remarkably beautiful collection, and it was only when the intending purchaser took them from their velvet bed and held them in his hands that he realized that there was not a perfect pearl in the entire collection."

The diamond industry has a standardized system for grading flaws, based on a system developed by the GIA. The pearl industry does not have such a system. Nevertheless, flaws do affect the price of pearls. In essence, pearl grades have no meaning except what the seller assigns to them. Therefore, do not rely on grades to compare pearl prices. Whenever you look at pearls, ask to see a wide range of qualities. Some stores may have master strands indicating different qualities and these will be helpful. Gradually you will be able to create your own mental image of each grade quality. After you have established your own grading system and can use it consistently, you will be better able to compare prices than if you just relied on grades written on pearl tags--grades whose meaning changes according to the store or supplier using them.

Size and Length

The size of pearls is expressed in terms of their diameter measured in millimeters (mm). One millimeter is about 1/25 of an inch. Since pearl size varies within a strand, a range of 1/2 millimeter is usually indicated, e.g. 7 - 7 1/2 mm. Occasionally, a few of the pearls might fall slightly above or below the size indicated. The size of non-round pearls can be expressed in terms of their greatest width and length in some cases depth. The measurements are generally rounded to the nearest half or whole millimeter. Most dealers price 3 - 5 millimeter strands alike in some of their grades and increase the price for all their grades as size gets bigger. But every dealer would show a price increase from 5 mm to 6 1/2 mm. When determining effect of size on price keep in mind that price jumps between pearl sizes tend to be uneven. Pearl prices tend to jump more as the sizes reach the 7 - 7 1/2 mm mark. Size tends to have the least effect on price in sizes below 5 mm.

Black Pearls

Black Pearls

Judging from the prices of "black pearls," pearl connoisseurs find dark gray very appealing. In April 1990, for example, a single strand of 27 black pearls was sold for $880,000 at Sotheby's in New York. This was more than $32,000 per pearl. Black pearls are not necessarily black. More often than not they range from a medium to very dark gray.


Black pearls can look almost metallic. You should expect a higher and different luster from them than you would from white pearls. Dark nacre does not reflect light in the same way that white nacre does. The best way to learn the luster potential of a black pearl is to look at black pearls ranging from very low to very high luster. After you compare them, you probably won't be satisfied with a black pearl of low luster. Low luster in black pearls is often correlated with thin nacre, as is the case with white pearls.


Generally the darker the black pearl, the more valuable it is. The finest black pearls have color overtones. Colors such as pink, blue, gold, green, silver, and reddish purple. These overtones may be present in a variety of combinations and are considered a plus factor. Black pearls also have a wide range of body colors--black gray, blue, green, brown. There is no standardized system throughout the pearl industry for classifying or valuing the color of black pearls, and considering the complexity of it, there may never be. There is no standard either for determining how dark a pearl must be to be called "black."

Shape of Black Pearls

When you need to cut down on the price of pearls, shape is a good category to compromise on.


The bigger the black pearl the more expensive it is. Size has great impact on price. A 1 mm increase in the size of medium-quality pearls can raise their price by 100 to 200%

Finding a good buy When Buying Pearls

As you learn to compare luster differences among pearls, you will see how pearl brilliance differs from that of other gems. The brilliance of faceted gems normally appears best in their face-up position. No matter how you hold or wear good pearls, they glow. Even away from light they glow. And this glow has an intensity and depth unmatched by any other shiny object. As you learn to compare pearls you'll see that good pearls are not just white. They a have variety of underlying colors which add to their beauty. And they come in a wide spectrum of body colors. Pearls can be worn anywhere, anytime, with anything. And even though pearls offer all these positive features you don't have to be rich to own fine-quality pearls. You should be able to find good ones to fit almost any budget. Look at pearls whenever possible. Take time to analyze them. Gradually, you'll learn to recognize good value, and you will see that the pearl is a remarkable gem which has no peer.

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