Knowing the qualities of a pearl is essential to determine its value. Depending on the appearance and composition of a pearl, it can be more expensive or cheap. A pearl’s shape, iridescence, size, hardness, texture, color, and some other characteristics are important to note before buying a pearl.
The origin of a pearl also factors into its price. Pearls can also occur in nature or be cultured. There are also imitation pearls. There are ways to identify each type of pearl and knowing them is the basis of investing in pearls. But when you do it right, there are huge rewards.
Just a fun fact, In 1917, Pierre Cartier, a french jeweler, bought a building on 5th Avenue, New York, by selling a strand containing 128 pearls. That’s how valuable pearls can be when they possess the right qualities.
Qualities of A Pearl Explained
Pearls are produced inside molluscs with living shells. You can extract pearls from the soft tissue of mussels and oysters or any member of the scientific Margaritiferidae family. These organic gemstones have been valued since ancient times.
Here are the significant qualities of a pearl that determine its worth.
All pearls aren’t round and symmetrical. They appear in different shapes that are unique. The reason why you see round pearls more commonly is because that’s the shape that’s most valuable. In reality, only a small fraction of all cultured pearls are spherical. To test whether a pearl is round, roll it to see if it veers off to a side. A round pearl will move in a straight line.
The most common shapes of pearls are-
- Round- For a pearl to be considered round, its diameter can only vary less than 2.5%.
- Near Round- This shape may look round to the human eye but is actually less than ideal with a diameter variability of more than 2.5%.
- Button- Pearls that have a shorter vertical axis than their horizontal axis are button pearls.
- Drop- Drop-shaped pearls are the opposite of button pearls. They have a longer vertical axis. Teardrop, egg, and oval pearls belong in this category.
- Circle- When you can spot parallel grooves, rings, or bands around the parameter of a pearl, it is a circle-shaped one.
- Baroque- An asymmetrical or freely-shaped pearl is known as baroque. It is possible for one half of a pearl to be symmetrical, while the other is asymmetrical. That is known as semi-baroque.
As a rule of thumb, larger pearls sell for more as they are rarer. A tool called milligauge is used to measure pearl size in millimeters. For round pearls, only the diameter is measured to indicate size.
Irregular shaped or Baroque pearls can’t be measured with that much ease. Most of the time the widest diameter is taken into account. Sieving is a measuring technique that is also used in the case of Baroque pearls.
Both natural and cultured pearls come in a variety of colors. Usually, the color of a pearl is dependent on what species of oyster it came from. The environment of its growth may also play a factor.
A single pearl can display several colors subjected to certain conditions. According to the GIA Pearl Description System, the most dominant color of a pearl is its bodycolor. Some pearls reflect additional colors close to their top. These extra colors are called overtones. If a pearl displays a rainbow of colors underneath its surface when rotated, it is called orient.
While all pearls do have a bodycolor, orient, and overtones are special features that only some have. The common bodycolors seen in pearls are white, silver, brown, blue, pink, beige, green, red, purple, and gold. White or off-white pearls are considered most valuable in general.
The luster of a pearl is its deep, bright glow that radiates visibly. The radiance and brilliance of the shine or luster of a pearl will depend on the thickness of the nacre or its quality. Nacre is the material is a constituent found in the shell of mollusks. Pearls also contain nacre.
When the light reflects from both surfaces of the pearl and refraction occurs due to the layers of mother of pearl or nacre found within the pearl, it causes the pearl to have luster. This is a special feature found in pearls and not other gemstones.
Iridescence of a pearl is its quality to appear to have different colors based on the angle of view or lighting conditions. This quality of pearls is unique and is partly why the gemstone has been valued for so long.
According to the Mohs scale, the hardness of pearls is between 2.5-4.5. This is more than gold, which is rated from 2.5 to 3.0.
On the other hand, steal is placed at 4-4.5 on the Mohs scale. Hopefully, with those comparisons, you can get an understanding of pearls’ hardness.
Pearls don’t have a perfectly smooth texture. You can expect some roughness to the touch. It is also a way to determine whether a pearl is an imitation or not. In case the pearl feels too smooth to the touch, it is likely an imitation.
If a pearl has too many abrasions on the surface or lots of scratches, its value is lessened. However, if drilling holes or placing them on molds for jewelry can fully cover the imperfections, the pearls will retain good value.
Types of Pearls Based On Origin
One of the things that determine a pearl’s value more than other factors is its origin. A pearl’s origin also has an impact on its composition. Natural pearls are the most valuable, while imitation pearls are cheap.
Natural pearls are those that originate in nature automatically. The formation of natural pearls in the wild is an uncommon thing and is quite rare. Because of their rareness, they are valued higher.
For a natural pearl to form, a mollusk needs to be injured. When foreign particles like sand enters a mollusk, it gets injured. To repair the damage, the organism coats the damaged part with mother of pearl.
Natural pearls are hunted by breaking open mollusks to see if they contain the gemstone. This process kills the creatures. That’s why hunting for natural pearls is banned in many places to prevent any threat to these species.
To culture pearls farmers graft the tissue of a donor mollusk to create ‘seeds’ that will turn into oysters. Natural pearls have a center that is made up of mother of pearl. However, in cultured pearls, the center is only covered by a layer of mother of pearl.
But these differences can’t be detected through one’s naked eye. For that, specialized lab pieces of equipment are needed. These equipments are also able to determine whether a pearl has been treated for color, whether it’s a freshwater or seawater pearl.
Cultured pearls can have significant value. In Tahiti, black pearls are cultured and sold at a high value because of their unique appearance. Black lipped oysters are used to produce these pearls. Their most beautiful feature is the black bodycolor with overtones of green and purple.
Other popular cultured pearls that are all over the market are Freshwater Pearls, South Sea Pearls, Edison Pearls. Among these three, Edison Pearls is relatively new. They were developed through long experimentations. A mixture of South Sea Pearls and Freshwater Pearls, the Edison Pearls are real beauties. They are extraordinarily large and have a brilliant shape that is absolutely striking.
Imitation pearls are made with a combination of organic and inorganic materials. Mother of pearl, metal, plastic, paint, etc. are all used to make an imitation pearl look real.
The value of these pearls is considerably lower and you will be robbed if you mistake imitation pearls for cultured natural ones. Imitation pearls were first produced in Venice in the 16th century. They became very fashionable in Europe.
You can spot an imitation pearl in the famous painting of Johannes Vermeer dubbed ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’. The pearl in the painting is quite big. A natural pearl of that size would be worth a fortune.
Pearls are one of the most sought-after gemstones. They are unique in the way they are derived from life. The luster of pearls and their iridescent shine make them glimmer from any angle you behold them. They also appear in so many different colors, sizes, and shapes that make them interesting to work with when designing jewelry.
It is hard to match the elegance of pearls. They look gorgeous and luxurious. They signify wealth and affluence in culture and literature since ancient times. They are a big part of history and fashion. Knowing the qualities that add to pearls’ value is essential before choosing to buy them.
It is always wise to make informed investments in jewelry. If you take care of your pearls properly, their value will probably be upheld.