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Pearl Buying Guide

By Robin Silva 3 months ago 303 Views No comments
Pearl Buying Guide

We cover the ins and outs of buying pearls in our pearl buying guide

Pearls are one type of jewelry that can be considered both classic and contemporary. They can be worn many different ways, and are offered at a broad range of prices. When it comes to buying pearls, there are many options. From the size, to the color, to the location of origin, there are countless types of pearls to choose from.

Many of our customers aren't sure where to start when it comes to buying pearls, so they visit our store and ask our qualified experts a plethora of questions ranging from simple to extremely complex. So, to help both our customers and anyone looking at purchasing any type of pearl jewelry, we put together this basic pearl buying guide to help you understand some of your choices.

The various types of pearls

Generally, the two most common and popular types of pearls are freshwater or cultured pearls. Many other types of pearls are also available, such as Tahitian pearls, imitation pearls, mabe (MAH-bey) pearls, Akoya pearls, natural pearls, South Sea pearls, baroque pearls… The list goes on! For the sake of time and to spare you from information overload, let’s talk about the two most common pearl types: freshwater and cultured.

Cultured pearls

Pearls can be found naturally, but the best and most common ones are grown with the help of humans. Cultured pearls are a labor of love and are usually harvested in pearl farms. The process works by raising a mollusk to the proper maturity. From there, the mollusk is delicately implanted with an irritant (usually a mother of pearl bead) and then cared for while the pearl forms.

While this is a tried-and-true method of creating pearls, it’s not foolproof as a pearl doesn’t always form. What’s more, because cultured pearls vary so greatly in shape and size, thousands of pearls might be collected before a single matching strand is completed.

Cultured pearls range in size from 2 mm to 10 mm (the diameter). The most common strands you will see are between 5 mm and 7 mm. Cultured pearls should all be the same size, color, and luster; cultured pearls larger than 8 mm are very rare and probably very expensive.

Cultured pearls are high-quality and usually range in color from a pink hue to white with an unparalleled luster. It’s up to you what color you like best. Neither color affects value, but people from a specific culture might prefer a certain tone.

Pearl Buying Guide

Freshwater pearls

Freshwater pearl strands are probably the most popular strands available. These strands do not have the consistency of cultured pearls, and that is reflected in the price. A necklace of freshwater pearls can easily be half the cost of a cultured pearl necklace, if not less.

Freshwater pearls differ from cultured pearls in that multiple irritants are put into the mollusk instead of just one. This process yields more pearls, but they are not as symmetrical compared with cultured pearls.

The freshwater growing process has come a long way since its debut long ago. Back then, most freshwater pearls were shaped like a rice grain—in other words, extremely irregular and nothing like the round, pristine pearls you see today. Today, however, freshwater pearls are grown almost perfectly spherical. These pearls are not quite as nice as cultured pearls, but are very close. This is a great option for someone who wants a strand of pearls without spending thousands of dollars.

Pearl sizes

Pearls are measured in millimeters, or mm for short. When you visit a jeweler, most pearls you'll see are sized between 2 mm and 10 mm. Pearl sizes don't really affect anything other than the customer's choice. Some customers like large pearls, while others like smaller pearls.

A more "classic look" when it comes to pearls is usually a 5-mm or 6-mm pearl. Anything larger is considered fashion jewelry, while anything smaller is more of a "child's" size.

Pearl quality

As with diamonds, no two pearls are created equal. In fact, there's a grading system for pearls called the Hanadama system. This grading system ranges from commercial grade (signifying the lowest quality pearls) to AAA and a higher grade called Freshadama. Pearls classified as AAA or Freshadama are the highest quality, most sought after pearls.

Pearl colors

Pearls occupy an interesting color spectrum. Normal pearls are either white or white with a pinkish hue. Tahitian pearls have been described as having the appearance of an "oil spill," which may sound off-putting but accurately describes the extremely dark and vibrant coloration of these unique pearls. South Sea pearls can vary widely in coloration, from white and pinkish to gold, black, or brown.

In terms of preference, it's your call. There really is no preferred color of pearls. Aside from the classic, traditional appearance of white or the whitish look with a pink hue typical of a strand of pearls, it's entirely your choice which pearls look best to you.

Guide to Buying Pearls

Pearl shapes

Despite what most people think, pearls come in a variety of shapes, which include ringed (or circled), baroque, drop, button, off-round, round, and keshi (also called "rice-krispy").

When it comes to shape, again it's entirely your choice, but we've found over the years that most of our customers prefer a classic, round pearl.

Buying a pearl necklace

The thing to consider when picking a necklace strand is length. Technically, you can make a pearl strand any length you’d like depending on how many pearls are on the strand, but strands are usually sold in either 16 inches (“choker” length) or 18 inches (“princess” length). Other lengths exist, such as collar, matinee, opera, and rope length. These varieties measure 12, 24, 36, and 45-plus inches, respectively.

Buying a pearl bracelet

Sizing a pearl bracelet is usually a little easier, as 7.5 inches is the average length. Keep in mind the size of the pearls when sizing. Bigger pearls will make a smaller bracelet circumference.

Bear in mind, also, that pearls can be damaged easily, so we don't recommend wearing a pearl bracelet every day.

Buying pearl earrings

If there's one place that you can safely and regularly wear pearls, it's on an earring. Your hands and wrists continually bump into things throughout the day, so the pearls on a bracelet are subjected to much unintentional abuse. By contrast, your ears usually don't bump into anything, so the pearl earrings you're wearing should last for quite a long time.

Even so, pearls are fragile and still need to handled with care. If you wear hairspray, for example, be sure to put it on BEFORE you put on your pearl earrings. The acids contained in hairspray and other grooming products (perfumes, lotions, makeup) can weaken the pearl’s protective outer coating (called the “nacre”) and dull its beautiful luster.

What about pearl rings?

While many customers like the look of a nice pearl on their hands, pearls on rings generally aren’t the best idea for the reasons stated above. Yes, it's done all the time, but pearls should not be worn every day because they are delicate and, thus, more likely to wear down on a ring. The day-to-day hand washing and general bumping a ring endures ruins the pearl’s luster. Pearls also crack easily, making them a bad choice for rings, at least in our opinion.

Pearl Buying Guide

Pearls and metal choices

Lastly, when shopping for pearls, consider the metal type and color to accompany your pearl jewelry.

Most strands today have clasps made of either yellow or white gold. Metal type becomes a bigger factor if the strand has a pendant or enhancer hanging on it, or if the strand has some type of beads separating the pearls. If the strand you are looking at doesn’t have either, don’t sweat it. Yellow gold is classic and always a good choice.

Pearl jewelry maintenance

Another thing to consider about pearls is maintenance. It’s a good idea to wipe down your pearls after every wear. This will preserve the nacre by not letting oils from your skin and other lotions and perfumes damage the finish.

When not wearing your pearls, do not hang them. Instead, store them laying down or safely in a pouch or bag. If a strand is hung, the weight of the pearls will stretch out the silk over time, and eventually the pearls will have to be restrung.

That brings me to the next point: Pearl strands require restringing when the silk stretches out, and sometimes the strand might break. Don't fret, however, since this deterioration occurs over time. It could be years before your pearls need to be repaired or replaced, depending on how often you wear them.

Whenever you see a strand of pearls break in a movie, the pearls tend to fly and scatter all over the floor. This doesn’t happen in real life, however. If your strand of pearls is a quality piece of jewelry, there should be a knot between each pearl. That way, if your strand breaks, it will remain in one piece (hopefully).

Real vs. faux pearls

Do you know how to determine the difference between faux pearls and the real McCoy? It might take some trial and error and maybe some comparison between a few different strands, but once you feel the difference, it’s easy to determine.

When rubbed together, faux pearls will slip and slide along each other because they usually are made of a slippery, plastic substance. Also, look at the hole the silk goes through; with faux pearls, sometimes you might see a coating flaking or rubbing off. That doesn’t happen with real pearls.

When real pearls are rubbed together, they will have a certain roughness to them. They'll feel gritty and have some resistance, as opposed to the slippery, plastic feel of fake pearls.

Another thing to look for is the clasp. Is it real gold? Also, is it a real pearl clasp or just a hook lock or spring ring? Lastly, are there knots between each pearl? All these things are a sign of quality. While none of these tests are definitive, failing one of these tests provides good insight into the quality of the piece.

Think about it. Would someone waste a nice 14-karat gold clasp on a fake set of pearls? Would someone take the time to restring and individually knot fake pearls? Probably not, but it’s not unheard of. If you are ever unsure whether a strand is made of real or faux pearls, bring it to us and we will be happy to take a look at it for you.

The cost of pearls

The cost of pearl jewelry is determined on the quality of the pearls and whether they are real, grown in a lab, or completely fake.

As with diamonds, it is difficult to compare two pearls side by side in quality, as well as in price, because there are so many different factors. The size, quality, and color all affect the price of the pearl. Pearls are so unique that it could take 1,000 mollusks to create one small strand of pearls. This makes it hard to give a definitive cost for pearls. For example, a large, round pearl may be more expensive than several smaller, oval pearls.

It is safe to say that freshwater pearls are considerably more inexpensive than cultured pearls. For example, if you’re looking at an 18-inch pearl necklace strung with 8-mm freshwater pearls and a gold clasp, the strand may run you around $700. Conversely, the same type of necklace with a gold clasp and strung with cultured pearls may cost more than $4,300.

To learn more about pearls or to browse our large selection, visit either of our New Jersey locations in Morristown or New Providence. If you'd like to talk to someone directly about pearls, you can contact us online anytime by emailing us directly at info@braunschweiger.com, or simply fill out our contact form and we'll answer your questions as quickly as we can.

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