Buying pearls takes careful consideration, as they are a piece of precious jewellery, which will last a lifetime, seeing you through every trend and fashion imaginable. This is why Artery Gallery have decided to give you a helping hand with our pearl buying guide.
You need to learn how to know when a pearl is genuine, or simulated. A genuine pearl – freshwater, cultured, or otherwise, can be identified by rubbing it against one’s tooth. A real pearl will feel rough, gritty or sandy against a tooth, whereas a false, simulated pearl with feel smooth and silky. This will not damage a genuine pearl, but I wouldn’t imagine it would be particularly good for teeth, to do this on a regular basis!
Pearls are formed in different ways, depending on what type of pearl has been developed. Saltwater pearls tend to come from oysters, whereas freshwater pearls tend to come from mussels – however, pearls can occur naturally in any shell, though a naturally produced pearl is very rare.
Cultured saltwater pearls are generally formed by injecting a tiny bead made from shell, along with a piece of oyster tissue, into a live oyster. The soft tissue helps form a ‘pearl sac’ and the bead irritates the inside layer of the oyster. As this occurs, the oyster starts to produce nacre, which is the mother of pearl coating found on the inside of any shell. By coating the tiny bead layer upon layer in nacre, it stops it irritating the inside of the oyster and this produces a pearl.
Cultured freshwater pearls are produced more or less the same way, but instead inserting a small piece of soft mantle tissue into a mussel, rather than a shell bead. This pearl growing technique for cultured freshwater pearls creates a pearl that is formed entirely from nacre without the tiny shell bead centre.
‘Potato’, ‘Rice’ and ‘Seed’ named due to their resemblance.
‘Baroque’ pearls are irregular shaped.
‘Button’ pearls are often flat one side and rounded on the other.
‘Coin’ pearls are grown flat like a coin.
‘Stick’ pearls (or ‘Biwa’) are long twig-like irregular shaped pearls.
Modern pearl culturing techniques now allow us to grow pearls in all different shapes, and can be seen in shaped such as stars or diamonds. Of course they would never grow like this naturally, but it makes a great alternative to more traditional styles.
Many people associate pearls with weddings, as pearls are traditionally white, however due to modern pearl growing methods, pearls now come in myriad colours, from emerald green, to deep red. Paler colours on the other hand are generally naturally occurring – pale pinks, peach, lavender, silver, gold, cream and white tend to be naturally coloured. The pearls take on their colour from the inside of the shell they are growing in.
Colours such as turquoise blue and fuchsia pearls tend to be dyed this way. Pearl dying techniques have changed massively over the decades, and now the colours look as real and even, as if it had occurred that way naturally.
There are five points that measure a pearls quality – size, shape, colour, lustre and surface and the pearls are graded according to these points.
Pearls can vary greatly in size, but needless to say, the larger the pearl, the more rare it is, therefore more valuable, and worth a higher grade. The closer to a perfect round shape, will also improve value of a pearl, though a perfect round pearl is nearly impossible to find.
It really comes down to personal taste though, as many designers now make jewellery specifically from different shaped pearls particularly stick pearls.
The natural colour of a pearl also affects It’s grading or value, but obviously nowadays with new dying techniques, this isn’t as important as it once was. A colour is judged by basic tone, evenness and luminosity. Pearls from certain areas only ever achieve certain colours naturally – Tahitian pearls tend to be varying shades of blacks and greys (and are usually quite large) and South Sea pearls are found in shades of rich cream and gold.
The Lustre of a pearl is one of the most important things to grade a pearl. Lustre is graded from B – AAA. The lustre is the luminous shiny surface created by layer upon layer of nacre forming. Some pearls can appear chalky or cloudy on the surface, which is not as desirable. The best lustre for a pearl is AAA – a tip is to look in the surface of a pearl for your reflection. The clearer you see your reflection, the better the pearl. To reach perfection, the surface of a pearl would need to be flawless – no indentations, ridges or rings. This sort of pearl is extremely rare and valuable, as most pearls have naturally occurring surface indentations and ripples. This only adds to their unique quality though.
The worlds largest pearl was a 14.1lb pearl found in a giant clam in 1934, valued at 60 million dollars, and the most expensive pearls ever sold was in 2004 at Christie’s Auction. Reaching 3.1 million dollars. Although Artery Gallery doesn’t have any pearls worth a million dollars, we have many pieces of pearl jewellery to make you feel that way.