Pearl Shopping 101: 6 Things to Consider When Buying Pearls

Every category of gemstone has defining characteristics. Savvy shoppers familiarize themselves with such details to help them make smart purchases. For diamonds, the four Cs—color, cut, clarity, and carat weight—guide shoppers to acquire the most sensible stone for their budget, while origin and treatment assessments of rubies, sapphires, and emeralds aid those in the market for colored gems. When it comes to pearls, however, the public is often baffled because these lustrous gems are less understood. Luster? Nacre? Many questions arise when dealing with this niche of fine jewelry. Luckily, some guidelines exist for buying high-end pearls like Souths Seas and Akoyas. Assael’s Peggy Grosz instructs on how to shop for them.

Contemporary Pearl and Diamond Ring

  • Examine the nacre. Look for smooth, luminous pearl surfaces. The surface nacre of a high-end South Sea or Akoya pearl should be smooth, shiny, and free of flaws. Thicker layers of nacre—the organic crystalline substance that makes up the pearl—paves the way for a beautiful, deep and luminous luster. It gives an iridescent visual effect or subtle glow on a pearl’s surface. Avoid chalky, slick, non-reflective pearls as they are poor quality because the nacre is thinner and of lesser quality and does not reflect light well.

the origins of pearls

  • Inquire about the origin of the pearls. Smart sales associates at trusted fine jewelry retailers will be able to help you assess the quality and value of different types of pearls. Ask about the origin of the pearls as South Sea pearls are literally from the South Seas (places like Indonesia, Australia and Tahiti); whereas Akoya pearls are typically from the seas off the coast of Japan. Akoya pearls and South Sea pearls are among the best varieties of pearls available.

the colors of pearls

  • Choose the color you like best. From bright white and pink-ish Akoyas to silvery Tahitians to rare golden varieties, the hue you like best is the ideal acquisition for you. And while some pearls are treated to enhance color, the process doesn’t diminish the pearl’s preciousness.

Diamond and baroque pearl drop earrings

  • Understand that round pearls are more rare but baroque shapes are more interesting. Round pearls command higher prices for their rarity, but one-of-a-kind-shape pearls grown purposely and by accident in flakes, nuggets, and oversize buttons can be just as lustrous (or more so). If it’s interesting shapes you prefer, then baroque pearls are what you should collect. If you are more refined with a flair for precision, opt for the rarity of perfectly round pearls.

  • Consider wearing pearls in necklace and earring styles. Why? Because “pearls work their biggest magic next to the face,” observes Grosz. Her favorite? Lustrous and light-filled Akoya & South Sea Pearl earrings from the new “Bubbles by Sean Gilson” collection; her innovative double-sided earring design really helps her face to glow. My fave? I prefer a Bubbles by Sean Gilson ring, so I can admire it all day as I work!

Rope pearls

  • Ditch the dated pearl stereotype by donning a rope necklace. Versatile, fresh, and young looking, lengthy rope numbers that can be wrapped multiple times and even worn as belts will never call to mind the dowdy imagery of grandmother’s pearls.