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4 Questions to Ask When Buying Pearl Jewelry

For many years, we witness a great phenomenon – the growing popularity of pearls. Years ago, pearl jewelry became one of the biggest jewelry trends. 

Contemporary powerful women, including Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, and others, all wear pearl jewelry due to its classic elegant and refined look.

Of course, we should bear in mind that pearls today are very different from what we used to see in the 80s or 90s of the last century.

pearl necklace
Pearl necklace features a new generation of pearls: freshwater Chinese Kasumi pearls. Designed and created by Jewelry Olga.

In those days, we were mainly wearing small white round pearls. Today, such jewelry is dubbed old fashioned. At present, we see a new generation of pearls. Large pearls of different colors, shapes, and even textures.

Do You Have Peal Jewelry?

I am sure that the majority of women in our generation own pearls. And when we buy something new, it’s either for a wedding/graduation gift or because we want to update our look by wearing contemporary and even edgy pearl jewelry. We also buy pearls when traveling.

At our age, we are mature, educated, and experienced women. Thus, we want to know what we are getting for our money. Consequently, many of us prefer quality over quantity. And when we invest money in jewelry, including pearl jewelry, we want to get both value and beauty.

If you buy a piece of pearl jewelry for yourself, for your daughter or granddaughter, you want it to be worn with pleasure and to be transferred as an heirloom.

Moreover, even if you buy pearls at a well-known jeweler, it is still fun to discuss the excellence and flaws of a piece of pearl jewelry and, eventually, choose the most beautiful one at a good price.

That is why it is logical to know how to buy pearl jewelry. 

Which pearls have value? Are they going to last long? How should you choose pearls? What criteria should you be looking for? These are some of the questions that matter.

When you know what a pearl is, it becomes easy to remember what to look for regarding quality and peculiarities.

How Pearls Grow

Pearls are the only gems growing in a living organism, a type of mollusk. We call this mollusk an oyster, if it grows in saltwater, or a mussel, when it grows in freshwater.

This mollusk, as it lives in the water, may be invaded by a foreign body – a parasite, a virus, or a microorganism. Protecting itself, the mollusk tries to get rid of the intruder by secreting a crystalline substance called nacre. Nacre’s quality, its luster, determines the beauty of pearls.

Layer after layer, this nacre is deposited around the intruder. Voila! a pearl is born.

Question #1: Genuine or Imitation Pearls?

Majorica pearls are imitation pearls.
Genuine pearl necklace designed and created by Jewelry Olga.

As pearls have always been rare and expensive, imitation pearls were invented centuries ago. So, first, you need to make sure that the pearls you are looking at are genuine, not imitations. 

Question #2: Natural or Cultured Pearls?

Natural, antique pearl necklace.

Natural pearls are produced by the mollusks inhabiting a wild habitat. Today, natural pearls are very rare and expensive because of overharvesting and pollution.

Nowadays, the pearl market consists mostly of cultured pearls. Using sophisticated techniques, pearl farmers grow pearls in the mollusks. Cultured pearls are genuine just like natural pearls. However, the process of nacre formation is triggered artificially.

Question #3: Saltwater Pearls or Freshwater Pearls?

Cultured saltwater pearls – Akoya pearls.

Regardless of the process of pearl creation (natural or cultured), you may be looking at either saltwater or freshwater pearls. Saltwater pearls are produced in oysters in the sea while freshwater pearls grow in the mussels in rivers or ponds.

Usually, an oyster produces only one pearl, while a mussel can grow up to 30 pearls. In general, the technique of growing saltwater pearls is more complicated and costly. Thus, saltwater pearls are much more expensive than freshwater pearls.

Question #4: What Type of Saltwater Pearls Are These?

Depending on various factors, such as place of growth, saltwater pearls may be classified as Akoya pearls, Tahitian pearls, and South Sea pearls. Among these, the South Sea pearls are considered to be the most valuable.

How to Choose Nice Pearls

Today, pearls may look like these examples created by Jewelry Olga:

Once we know what pearls we are looking for, we need to be aware of which characteristics classify a pearl as good quality. To start with, we need to know that pearl nacre thickness and quality determine how long the pearl will last. 

Luster is a crucial characteristic as well. Pearl luster is the sharpness and intensity of the images reflected from the pearl’s surface. It determines the quality and value of pearls.

Color is another factor affecting pearl value. 

Of course, we should not forget about pearl shape, size, surface cleanness. And for each pearl type, these characteristics will be different.

As you can see, there are many factors that you should take into account. If you are looking for specific information, please leave a comment below.

Should You Go to a Reputable Jeweler to Buy Pearls?

Bearing in mind the variety and complexity of pearl characteristics, you will do well to go to a reputable jeweler who is an expert in pearls. 

They will be able to provide comprehensive information and updates regarding the novelties in the pearl market. They will probably offer you a great choice of pearls and competitive prices.

Are Nice Pearls Very Expensive?

Don’t forget that it is possible to find nice pearl jewelry at different budget points. For instance, at present, freshwater pearls may have a great quality costing a fraction of the price you would pay for saltwater pearls of a similar look.

Updating Old Pearl Jewelry

If you have a “grandmother’s pearl necklace” that you don’t wear because it is outdated, it is possible to modernize it, getting stylish “classic pearl jewelry with a modern twist.” On the one hand, you will keep your family heirloom; on the other, you will enjoy wearing contemporary pearl jewelry. So, my next article will discuss ways to update your “grandmother’s pearls.”

Do your wear pearls? Do you wear your “grandmother’s pearls”? Is there a story connected to your pearl jewelry? Would you buy pearl jewelry as a gift to your daughter or granddaughter? Do you still think that pearls are the epitome of elegance and class? Do you like bold contemporary pearl designs? Or, do you prefer to see pearls in classic timeless styles?

Let's Have a Conversation!

The Author

Olga Shevchenko is an FGA certified gemologist and jewelry designer. Founder of Jewelry Olga, she designs and creates unique pearl jewelry in Montreal (www.pearljewelryexpert.com). Knowing that jewelry is a powerful fashion accessory, Olga teaches women how to choose it and look classy and beautiful at any age. Contact Olga at info@pearljewelryexpert.com.

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