Selecting the Perfect Pearls

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Since the times of ancient China, India, Egypt, and even in Imperial Rome, humans have been fascinated with pearls. Pearls are unique in that they are the only gemstone that is created inside a living organism.

There has always been a lot confusion associated with what makes pearls desirable or not. Just like diamonds, not all pearls are created equal. Wouldn’t it be great if you could choose a strand of pearls or pearl earrings that would make even the most pearl picky grandmother proud?

Let’s look at how the quality of pearls is determined so you can choose them with confidence. When selecting pearls for our stores, the Shane Company looks at seven factors to determine quality.

1)     Luster: The single most important indication of a pearl’s quality and value is its luster. Generally speaking, luster is the surface sheen; the way the pearl reflects brilliance and light. Luster is caused by light traveling down through the translucent layers of nacre, and reflecting back to the eye from the center of the pearl. A pearl with high luster will reflect like a mirror, while a pearl with low luster will appear chalky. Pearls are separated into four luster categories: Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor.

2)     Nacre Quality: Nacre is the same substance that is found inside an oyster’s or mollusk’s shiny shell. After a foreign object enters an oyster it starts getting coated with nacre. Over time layers of the nacre build up around it, creating the pearl. Nacre quality is very closely related to the luster and nacre thickness can vary depending on the type of pearl and the amount of time the pearl is forming inside the oyster.

3)     Size: The size of a pearl is expressed in its diameter and is measured in millimeters. Typically, pearls will measure between 5 and 17mm, with pearls on jewelry typically falling between 5 and 13mm. The size of a pearl does have a significant factor in its price. The size of a particular pearl is determined by the size of the oyster or mollusk that it is created in.

4)     Color: Pearls come in a wide range of colors. Lighter pearls come in shades of white, pink, silver, gold, and blue. Darker pearls are Tahitian pearls and are highly coveted due to their various darker shades of black, gray, purple, brown, and green. There is no pearl color that is universally desired the most; therefore, the value of a pearl (in terms of its color) is driven by the supply and demand in a given market and its rarity in nature.

5)     Surface Quality: The surface quality of a pearl refers to the spots and blemishes (or lack thereof) found on the surface of a pearl. As with the inclusions found in a diamond, spots and blemishes on a pearl make its value go down because the surface characteristics makes it less desirable and less rare than a pearl with great luster and fewer surface blemishes. There are several types of surface blemishes that can be found on a pearl, ranging from abrasions, chips, flat spots, gaps, pits, and wrinkles.  The amount of these blemishes, where they are located, and how they are spaced out affect the value of a given pearl. But not everyone desires pearls with the best surface quality. Some consumers prefer the natural beauty of Mother Nature found in an imperfect pearl and like random dimples, flat spots, or wrinkles. It is true, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

6)     Shape: Pearls can be found in nature in several different shapes:  Round, near round, button, oval, drop, semi baroque, baroque, and circle. Most consumers buying pearls are looking for a specialty item that will typically be made up of round or near round pearls. As with surface quality, there are some pearl buyers who like pearls of varying shapes, preferring the natural beauty of random shapes.

7)     Matching and consistency: When looking at a pearl necklace or pearl earrings it is very important to look at how well the various pearls match the other pearls in the set. If a pearl necklace comes with 50% highly desirable pearls and 50% not so desirable pearls, the necklace is only as good as its weakest link. So it is imperative that pearls match the others they come with. Since no two pearls are exactly alike, it is very important the jewelry maker takes pride in pearl matching.
Now, let’s take a look at the various types of pearls that are available and that the Shane Co. proudly carries. It’s important to note that many pearls available for jewelry are cultured pearls. Cultured pearls are pearls that are created in oysters or mollusks by pearl farmers under controlled conditions. Pearls found under natural conditions in the ocean can be very rare and valuable.

Chinese Freshwater Pearls

These pearls are cultivated in the fresh water lakes and rivers of China. Freshwater oysters are capable of great production, making a plentiful supply of these pearls. Freshwater pearls are very popular as jewelry because of their rich luster and since they are plentiful, they are less expensive than other pearls. Their colors range from pure white to rosy violet.

Akoya Pearls

These are classic pearls among cultured pearls. Typically, Akoya pearls are found in round or oval shapes and usually measure between 5 to 8 mm. Akoya pearls are usually found in southwestern Japan and China and can be found in colors ranging from pinkish white to creamy shades of silvery blue.

Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian pearls are highly regarded pearls. They are typically found in the lagoons of the South Pacific and are larger than most other types of pearls. They range in size from 8 to 14mm, but it’s not unheard of to find them up to 18mm. Tahitian pearls easily stand out from other pearls because of their darker colors of black, silver, and light and dark gray and the rarest of all Tahitian pearl colors, peacock green.

South Sea Pearls

South Sea pearls are undoubtedly the rarest cultured pearls in the world. They are usually found in the oceans around Australia and are also large, ranging in size from 9mm to 20mm. They can be found in many shapes and colors. Many industry experts believe that no other type of pearl can match a South Sea pearl’s beauty and size.

In summary, when considering which pearls to buy it is important to understand how pearl quality is determined, but it is also important to not get too overwhelmed with all the details. The most important thing you can do is make sure that the pearls you are considering are visually appealing to you and fall within your budget.

Any of the above mentioned pearls will make an excellent gift for that special lady in your life, or possibly even yourself. The benefit of purchasing your pearls from the Shane Company is that we’ve taken care of all the hard work for you. You are guaranteed top quality pearls, so all you have to do is pick the right color, size, and pearls that fit into your budget, and let us take care of the rest. You can rest assured that no matter what strand of Shane Company pearls you select, they are top quality and were hand matched so you can wear them with pride and tell your admirers with a smile, “I got these at the Shane Company.” Then, after years of enjoyment, you will be able to proudly pass your pearls on to the next generation.

Ryan has worked in the Roseville store since June 2013. As a Diamond Consultant, he helps customers find engagement rings as well as fashion jewelry for all of life’s special occasions. His favorite part about working for Shane Co. is helping a guy secretly purchase an engagement ring to surprise his girlfriend with. When he is not helping customers in the store, Ryan enjoys writing books and spending time with his son.

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