Why Are South Sea Pearls So Valuable? & Why Are They a Great Gift?

One of the most frequently asked questions about pearls is why South Sea Pearls are so valuable. There are many reasons, and just like diamonds or gemstones, there are several factors that affect the quality and value of pearls in general.  Fine South Sea Pearls are the superlative pearls, the crème de la crème of pearls, the most coveted and sought-after of all cultivated pearls in the world. They are unique in that they exhibit very high levels of each of the value factors – size, shape, luster/nacre thickness, surface cleanliness and rarity.

Pearls are one of the only gems in the world formed inside living organisms. (For information about how pearls are formed, click here.) How precious or valuable these pearls are is often defined by the delicate conditions of the ocean environment in which the oysters live. To sustain the oysters and keep them healthy while the pearls are developing, pearl farmers must keep the ocean water pure and clean, no matter the cost, ensuring that the oysters have access to their natural food supply. These environmental conditions naturally contribute to the aforementioned factors that affect the value of the pearls.

A great deal of time, effort and precision is involved in cultivating South Sea Pearls. And because each pearl is unique, the process of matching the pearls (to form a strand, for example) can take even more time and requires extensive expertise. So, when you put all these factors together, you begin to realize what a miracle it is just to be able to hold a strand of South Sea Gem Pearls in your hands.

Let’s look more closely at some of the specific factors that make South Sea Pearls so valuable, as well as why they make very meaningful gifts.


The sizes of South Sea Pearls are the largest among nacreous pearls because they grow in the largest genus of oyster – the Pinctada Maxima. This oyster is one of the more sensitive mollusks and requires pristine ocean conditions to thrive. It also has a longer gestation period for a pearl.  Because of its naturally larger size, it allows a larger pearl to form over time. South Sea Pearls develop over many years, typically from about 3 years to 10+ years. The longer the pearls are left inside the oysters to continue developing, the larger those pearls will become. Larger pearls, all other factors being equal, usually command higher prices.

Luster & Nacre Thickeness

South Seas also have thicker nacre.  Year after year, as the oyster continues to wrap the pearl in nacre, that thicker nacre creates more luster in the pearl.

“You should be able to almost mirror yourself in the luster to know what a really fabulous South Sea Pearl is,” says Christina Lang Assael, President and CEO of Assael. The higher the luster, the more valuable the pearl. And the thicker the nacre, the greater the long-term value of the pearl because it will wear well over time.

Clockwise from Upper Left – Tahitian Bubble Earrings from Sean Gilson for Assael, Assael Golden South Sea Gem Pearl Strand, various loose Fine South Sea Pearls

Clockwise from Upper Left – Tahitian Bubble Earrings from Sean Gilson for Assael, Assael Golden South Sea Gem Pearl Strand, various loose Fine South Sea Pearls

Shape & Matching

Shape is another important factor that can increase the value of a pearl, and fine South Seas have some of the most beautiful shapes. Perfectly round South Seas pearls are the most highly prized, but baroque (non-round) South Sea pearls can also be highly sought after for the beauty of their organic shapes.

Matching pearls to form a strand or a pair of earrings can be incredibly time-consuming and often requires years of collecting or saving pearls before they can be strung by professionals to form a beautiful necklace. The process and the amount of time it takes to match a gem strand is remarkable. It is a great investment of patience, expertise, and passion because the pearls must be matched according to ALL of the value factors. The experts must match pearls with highly similar sizes, shapes, nacre thickness/luster, surface cleanliness and color. Some white pearls are very white, others have natural undertones of beautiful champagne hues and subtle pink tones. And for more colorful pearls, like Golden South Sea and Tahitians for example, when you consider the many natural hue variations, the matching becomes even more challenging.

The more perfect the shape and the more beautifully matched the pearls in the strand, the more valuable the necklace will be.

Surface Cleanliness

Skin imperfections, or lack thereof, can also affect the value of a pearl. Here again, South Sea Pearls stand out with some of the cleanest, most beautiful and most perfect skins/surfaces.  Smooth mirror-like surface pearls are highly prized because they allow you to really see and appreciate the pearl’s luster. Pearls with clean, smooth, spotless skins are considered the most valuable.

Rarity – Fine & Gem Quality

Because South Sea Pearls form over longer periods of time, they are more costly to cultivate. For this reason, there are a limited number of South Sea pearl farms, making the truly prized South Seas exceptionally rare.

Not all cultured pearls are good enough to become Assael pearls. Only a small percentage of each South Sea pearl crop has sufficient size, shape, luster, and surface cleanliness to be considered “fine” or “gem” – these exceptional South Sea Pearl varieties are exceedingly rare and obviously more valuable. The House of Assael has built its reputation over seven decades by offering only the cream of the crop – only “fine” and “gem” quality pearls.

Clockwise from Upper Left – Mom being gifted a strand of Tahitian Pearls, Assael South Sea Gem Pearl Strand Opera Length, gift box, Model wearing an Assael South Sea Gem Pearl Strand and Assael Natural Conch Pearl and South Sea Pearl earrings, more of the Assael South Sea Gem Pearl Strand Opera Length, Woman dressing in a baroque pearl strand.

A Meaningful & Lasting Gift

When you begin to realize what a genuine miracle of nature these magnificent pearls really are, the question becomes, not why are they so valuable, but rather, why doesn’t everyone I love have them? South Sea Pearls make extraordinarily meaningful gifts because of the time, effort and attention that went into their creation, as well as into your thoughtful sourcing.

If you choose the perfect color, shape and length of pearls for your loved ones, you are giving a highly personalized gift that will enhance their beauty every time the pearls reflect their luster upon the skin. By giving such a naturally valuable gift, you are sending a clear and important message about the person’s value to you. As Peggy Grosz, Senior Vice President of Assael says, “Pearls are the only gem that show off the person, instead of the person showing off the gem.”

Pearls are also a feel good luxury. Pearl farmers must take care of the oceans where the oysters are farmed in order to have a viable business. According to Forbes, “Pearls are a natural, organic, environmentally-sustaining and virtually renewable gem.” Departures also sees pearls as the eco-conscious option  – “Pearls just may be the most sustainable gems in the world.” So a gift of truly fine South Sea pearls is also exceptionally meaningful to those who care about the environment.

Supreme quality South Seas of all types (White Australian, Tahitian, Golden and Fijian) will also wear well for many generations when properly cared for. This means that your gift of South Sea Pearls will live on and continue to bring joy for many years to come.

If you liked this, you might also like:

South Sea Pearls: Large, Luxurious, Long-lasting

Baroque South Sea Pearls and How to Wear Them

A Global Guide to South Sea Pearls

Introduction to Pearls – Understanding Nacreous and Non Nacreous Pearls

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