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Jewelry Education

Pearl Characteristics & Grading

Unlike diamond grading, which uses the 4Cs to determine value, there is no universal standard system for quality grading pearls. However, there are several characteristics that do affect their value, which should be considered before making a purchase.

Rarity - Perfection, like in any other gem, in all component characteristics is the premier factor in determining value. To get an idea of the degree of difficultly inherent in this: it takes six years, one hundred technicians and one hundred oysters, to obtain a perfect pearl!

Size - Just as in other gems, size does matter. The larger the diameter (which in pearls is expressed in half-millimeter sizes), the rarer it is. It is the single-most important factor in determining value, however, a larger pearl is not necessarily more valuable if it lacks in other characteristics. Pearls comes in all sizes from 4 - 18 millimeters in size. Typically, freshwater and akoya pearls are 4-9 mm; South Sea pearls are 8 millimeter and up.

Shape - Pearls that are perfectly round are extremely rare and the most valuable. While most pearls appear to be round, only about 1% are actually perfect spheres. While round is considered the most desirable, there are many other shapes that are still quite beautiful: semi-round; semi-baroque including drop, button, and oval shapes; circled pearls with three rings or more on 1/3 surface of the pearl; and baroque pearls with asymmetrical or irregular shapes. Often times, what Mother Nature doesn't give in terms of it's shape, she may make up in other features, such as lustre.

Color - Although pearls can come in a wide range of shades, the major color classifications are white, pink, silver, cream, gold and black. Finer quality pearls have an overtone, which usually appears toward the outside edge of the pearl. This can be rose, green or blue. Regardless of the color or shading, you should look for pearls with a deep, rich color that seems to come from within the gem.

Luster - The unique glow that comes from the pearls surface is known as luster. It is a byproduct of the layers of nacre that the oyster created to combat the irritant; the nacre thickness on a pearl produce rainbow-like colors that appear to move on the pearl's surface. The sharper the reflection of light on a pearls surface, the more luster it has.

Orient - The unique radiating effect that can be seen in only the best quality pearls, as if there is a glow from within the actual pearl. This effect is very rare and only appears in a small percentage of round pearls.

Surface Blemishes - Most pearls exhibit some degree of imperfection on their surface. These blemishes or marks should be slight and minimal.

Uniformity - It is critical that the pearls in any strand or piece of jewelry be evenly matched in terms of their size, shape, color, luster, etc. Visible variations of these qualities not only affect the piece's beauty, but its value.

Availability - A pearl's value is also based on its availability. South Sea pearls command the highest prices cue to their size and cost to produce. Saltwater cultured pearls generally command higher prices than freshwater cultured pearls, since a saltwater oyster can only produce one or two pearls at a time and a freshwater mussel can produce as many as 50 pearls at a time.

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