I am a pearl girl. The way pearls manipulate light is magical and ethereal. This is why so many of my recent pieces are pearl-heavy! (Coming soon!)
Every pearl is created by an animal and its formation is affected by various environmental conditions, quality of human care in the farm, culturing time, and overall health of the mollusk. This means that every pearl needs to be considered individually.
So how do we evaluate pearls?
In honor of June's Birthstone, Pearl, I want to take a peek at the Pearl Value Factors (updated from a post from June 2017!). While there is no universal system for evaluating pearls as there is with diamonds, there are nuances that determine a great pearl from a good pearl from a nasty pearl.
Pearl size refers to the diameter dimension of the pearl and it is expressed in millimeters (mm).
It doesn't matter what they told you: Size Matters. All other value factors being equal, a larger pearl will be more valuable.
Pearl size is dependent on several factors:
The mollusk species—some mollusks can grow larger pearl than others
The size & health of the mollusk (Bigger/Better = Bigger)
The size of the bead nucleus (Bigger = Bigger)
Length of time the mollusk stays underwater (Longer = Bigger)
Climate and nutrient conditions of the growing environment (Consistently Good = Bigger)
The pearl shape is the silhouette of the pearl, which ranges from round to baroque. There are three distinct shape categories: Spherical, Symmetrical, and Baroque.
For any shape other than the three major categories, the shape is described as it appears (coin, stick, button, etc).
Pearl shape is dependent on several factors:
The shape of the bead nucleus
Length of time the mollusk stays in water (Longer = Less predictable and less round)
Climate and nutrient conditions of the growing environment
The longer the pearl remains within the mollusk, the greater the chance of developing an irregular shape. A perfectly round pearl is very rare. Even if the bead nucleus is round, the pearl may not grow evenly in all directions. A large, perfectly round pearl is even rarer!
Pearls come in a wide range of colors resultant of the breed of the host mollusk and that of the donor tissue. The pearl will likely be similar in color to the mother-of-pearl lip of the mollusk in which it forms. There are a host of external influences, including diet, water temperature and pollutants., that can effect the color of the pearl, making it impossible to accurately predict the color of the pearl.
Pearl color is a combination of three elements:
Body colors: Body color is the dominant hue of a pearl. What color do you see when you just glance at the pearl? Overtones: Translucent color that overlies bodycolor. If you tilt the pearl from side to side and squint, is there a slight tinge of a secondary color? Orient: Iridescent rainbow colors on the surface. This is the magical, rainbow wash you see when you look at a pearl.
All pearls have a body color, but not every pearl displays overtone and/or orient.
Luster is what pearls do best. Luster is the way the light plays off of the surface of the pearl. Due to the pearls' nacre structure, light does not just reflect off of the surface of the pearl. Rather, light penetrates the surface and seems to reflect from WITHIN the pearl. The way that a pearl seems to emit light is its luster.
The quality of the nacre dictates the quality of the luster, which is very important to its beauty and its value. Pearl farmers can control the quality of nacre only to an extent. For example, allowing the pearl to form for more time will tend to make the nacre thicker and harvesting pearls during cold weather can often improve final luster quality! Many environmental factors can interrupt or alter the nacre formation, so there is no fool-proof method for creating a beautiful luster.
#5: Surface Complexion
Like other gemstones, pearls have clarity characteristics, but since pearls are not transparent or translucent, clarity is confined to the surface as blemishes in the surface complexion. Surface complexion is defined by the degree and visibility of surface imperfections. The fewer blemishes, the better the surface complexion.
Pearl blemishes that are often seen include: Pits, Abrasions, Bumps, Ridges, Chips, Cracks, Flat areas, spots, or uneven nacre coating.
Surface complexion is categorized using the terms: clean, lightly blemished, moderately blemished, heavily blemished.
A spotless pearl is extremely rare and valuable. If, for example, a pearl is large with excellent luster, these qualities will outweigh minor surface imperfections. Large or numerous imperfections not only lower the value, but can affect durability and the ability to see a pearl’s luster as well.
#6: Nacre Quality
The only way to determine the exact thickness of the nacre is to x-ray the pearl or cut it in half (I don't recommend cutting your pearls in half!). However, there are ways that we can visually assess the nacre quality. With careful examination, the nacre thickness can at times be visible through the pearl’s drill hole. With thin nacre, it may be possible to see the bead nucleus through the surface, which will be very chalky or dull as a result, lacking luster.
The longer the cultured pearl is allowed to remain in the oyster, the thicker the nacre coating will be. However, the longer the pearl remains in the oyster, the greater the chance of blemishes or misshapen pearls.
Make is the human artistry that goes into assembling a final piece of jewelry. This is the moment when a maker considers the above factors, combining them in an interesting way to lead to a beautiful make. Here is how that works:
Size: In a single strand, pearls are often matched to have the same diameter size. Matching for size could also mean that the strand displays an even graduation between sizes
Shape: Pearls come in a variety of shapes. By choosing consistently shaped pearls, we match for shape.
Color: Matching for color can be complex. You can match pearls for their same body color, overtone, and orient. OR, you can intentionally mismatch colors, while keeping other factors the same for continuity throughout a piece!
Luster: When pearls display matched luster throughout a piece, light reflects evenly across the the entire piece of jewelry. This creates a harmonious effect.
Surface Complexion: Pearls are matched in terms of the quality of their surface complexion. In the industry, you will often see pearls with more blemishes located at the back of a strand, so they are less visible.
Nacre Quality: When luster is matched throughout a piece of pearl jewelry, that demonstrates consistent nacre quality, as nacre quality determines the luster.
No two pearls are exactly the same, which means that even beautifully matched pearls will feature variations in color, luster, shape, etc. It can take a very long time to find pearls for an entire strand that match, but looked at individually, every pearl possesses beauty that is, in my opinion, unrivaled by every other gemstone.
I said it: Pearls are my favorite.
• Have strands cleaned and re-strung annually if worn regularly. • Avoid sudden temperature changes. • Avoid contact with cosmetics, hairspray, perfume, or household chemicals. • Do not use ultrasonic cleaning to clean your pearls • Avoid over exposure to bright light