Pearl Jewelry: Understand Pearls Before You Buy


We've all admired the gorgeous luster of a pearl necklace or a set of pearl earrings, but if you're in the market to buy pearl jewelry, you should understand the basics about pearls and pearl jewelry. Here, then, is a basic guide to pearls:

Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are farmed in rivers, lakes, and other freshwater sources. They differ from saltwater pearls in that freshwater pearls are almost entirely made up of nacre - the substance that gives pearls their luster and longevity. As a result, freshwater pearls will typically not experience the same amount of wear as saltwater pearls. A freshwater pearl necklace is also typically less expensive than other types of pearl necklaces. An added feature is that freshwater pearls come in a variety of colors, including pink, black, and purple. Those who trend toward nontraditional pearl colors will find the hue they're looking for in freshwater pearls.

Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian pearls are also known as black pearls because they are cultivated in the black-tipped oyster. The truth, though, is that Tahitian pearls come in a variety of hues, from true black to gray, from blue to green, and from pink to brown. It's difficult to match the colors of Tahitian pearls, so a Tahitian pearl necklace will cost more than its freshwater cousin.

Akoya Pearls

Akoya pearls hail from Japan, where they are cultured. More expensive than freshwater pearls, Akoya pearls are also typically more perfectly round and smoother than freshwater pearls. The luster of an Akoya pearl necklace and pearl earrings makes them the jewelry of choice for many brides-to-be.

Factors Affecting Price

The price of pearl jewelry can vary widely, depending upon a number of factors. Taking the price of the setting out of the equation, pearls are valued based on the type of pearl, their size, their roundness, and the absence or presence of flaws. If you are looking for affordable or wholesale pearl jewelry, freshwater pearls are your best bet. The most expensive pearls may be South Sea pearls, which are made by the pinctada maxima, or golden-lipped oyster. They are typically quite large and fairly rare.


Pearls are measured in millimeters, and typically vary from 5 mm to 18 mm. Needless to say, all other factors being equal, the larger the pearl, the more expensive it is. The same holds true for roundness or symmetry and the absence of flaws. A perfectly round white pearl with no mars will cost more than a pearl that is slightly asymmetrical or that has a mark on it.

That's not to say, of course, that only pearl jewelry made from flawless, large, round, white pearls is desirable. Increasingly, people appreciate the special qualities that colored and differently shaped pearls can bring to pearl jewelry. As with all exquisite items, everyone's taste is different. The one certainty is that you should know something about pearls before starting to shop for pearl jewelry.

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