The Value of Pearls - a Quick Guide for Beginners

By: TJ Liebgott

Ever since the ancient Egyptians first started creating jewelry, pearls have become one of the highest regarded gemstones. Even today pearls still hold their value due to the rarity of 'mother nature' creating this form of jewelry.

The prices of pearls though, have confused many novice buyers. Few seem to understand how one strand of pearls can cost them $300, while another similar looking piece can cost $40. Just like diamonds, there are many factors that contribute to the price of a pearl.

There are two main types of pearls.

  • 1) Pearls that occur naturally
    Naturally occurring pearls hold a significant value due to the rarity of pearls being produced. Of the 8,000 or so species of oysters, only about 20 of those are able to constantly produce pearls. For the most part the pearls these oysters do produce, few maintain a round or spherical shape.

  • 2) Pearls that are cultured.
    Somewhere in the 19th centaury science found a way to produce synthetically. These are called cultured pearls. Most of today's pearl jewelry is made in this way.

    The process involves surgically implanting the agent that causes the process of creating the pearl and creating a farm like environment for their stable of oysters. Although each variety of oysters creates a different style of pearl, cultured pearls are easily able to create the spherical shape most consumers desire.

It is extremely difficult for the most experienced jeweller to determine the difference between natural and cultured pearls.

  • The only real way to tell the difference is through submitting the pearl to an x-ray. A natural pearl will show the internal formations and stages of its growth, while a cultured pearl will have a solid center with no evidence of growth.

What Affects the Price of a Pearl?

  • A cultured pearl goes a far way since nobody will be able to tell the difference.
  • The size of the pearl
    In general the size is measured using the diameter of the pearl and expressed in millimetres. Even a millimetre difference can create a 100 percent or more difference in value.
  • Shape of the pearl.
    The ideal shape is perfectly round. While irregular shapes can reduce the price of the pearl, in some cases it improve the uniqueness of the jewelry. Most of the common shapes are oval, tear dropped or look button like.

  • Other factors are color, lustre and its surface.
    Ideally the perfect pearl would be silvery white, very reflective and contain no surface blemishes. Although color is a personal preference and pearls come in a variety of colors both naturally and syntactically.

Pearl Pricing

  • South Sea Pearls
    Known as the Rolls Royce of pearls. They are found in Australia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia. They are the largest and most valuable pearls grown today, with average sizes ranging from 10 to 15 millimeters.
    Prices range from $1,000 to over $100,000
  • Tahitian Black Pearls
    Known as black pearls. They are dark and exotic and requires no treatments to attain their dark iridescence. It is completely natural. Tahitian pearls can grow to 8 to 14 millimeters
    Prices range from $500 to over $25,000
  • Akoya Pearls
    Akoya are the first pearls to ever be farmed more than over 100 years ago. They are best known for their perfectly round shapes and fine reflective luster. Their size is 6 to 9 millimeters.
    Prices range from $300 to $10,000

Ultimately, what really matters is how the individual feels about the particular piece of jewelry.

If the pearls are to be enjoyed instead of an investment piece, than none of the grading rules jewellers use really matter. What does matter though, is that the color and size of the pearls perfectly complement the owner's beauty and grace.

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