If you’ve ever attempted to buy pearls, you’ll already understand the muddle you can soon find yourself in. Purchasing pearls isn’t an insurmountable task, but for those just starting out, it would be nice to have someone with a little expertise guiding one through what can and should ultimately be a pleasant time. For more in-depth coverage into buying pearl jewelry you will need to consult other sources, such as our Learning Center, but read on for some basic hints to help you through your first pearl buying experience.
First thing to know
Unless a set of pearls is labeled as natural, you can assume they are “cultured pearls.” If you’ve ever thought of freshwater pearls as cultured, and any other pearl not cultured, well, that’s not correct, since Akoya, Tahitian, South Sea and Freshwater pearls are all cultured. Consult a knowledgeable dealer or jeweler who will refer to pearls by their correct pearl type if you want to avoid confusion.
Figure out your parameters
You’ll need to decide what sort of pearl you need before you begin looking. Think about how you’ll be wearing them, whether at formal affairs or to the workplace. Your personal style will inform you, as well as how much you want to spend. A strand of pearls can range from thirty-five dollars, to thirty-five thousand dollars, so you’ll want to look among the choices you can afford.
Cultured pearl types
• Akoya: These are the classic white pearls which are known for their metallic, almost mirror-like luster, and their perfectly round shape. Although they are usually thought of as white pearls, they are also offered in dyed “black” versions, in a range of hues. They range from sixty-one to three thousand dollars.
• Tahitian: The only naturally “black” pearls, which range in color from silver to dark green, with multicolored peacock hues being the most popular choice. They can be seen in perfectly round to more commonly off-round shapes, and are mostly larger sized, from eight to sixteen millimeters. They can go for one hundred twenty to more than ten thousand dollars.
• South Seas: These large pearls, which range from nine to eighteen millimeters, can be anything from a silky silver to a deep gold, and are the most expensive of all the cultured pearls. Since they are so large and so valuable, they are often showcased in pendants, rings and earrings. They range from four hundred to thirty thousand dollars, the latter being for a full strand of them.
• Freshwater: Because of their long history and their recent rise in popularity as their culture has evolved this past century, this category of pearls is perhaps the most interesting. Long considered costume jewelry, due to inferior farming methods, they were widely available, but poorly regarded. Since the Chinese have improved culturing techniques, we now find Gem Grade Freshwater pearls commanding the prestige of Hanadama grade Akoyas in quality, and South Sea pearls in size. People who know and love pearls now consider high quality Freshwater pearls to be the cultured pearl of choice. They come in sizes from two to eighteen millimeters in size, and they can have colors from natural lavender to pink to bright white, so there can be one style found to suit anybody. They range from forty-five to fifteen hundred dollars.
Think about colors
Now that there are so many colors to choose from, this aspect of how to buy pearls can be a challenge. Anything from white to lavender, gold, pink, green, blue, purple, and every shade in between can be seen in natural and in treated form. If you only purchase one pearl necklace, then many think it should be the classic white. It goes with everything, and can go everywhere with you. It’s a good one to start out with. So-called “black” pearls aren’t really black, but their dark surface reflects with shades of gray, green, and blue, working well with darker skin tones and lending themselves to an exotic look. The pink, peach and lavender shades are always fun, and can be both appropriate for the younger flirty style, or matched well with an outfit, transform themselves into a sophisticated look for an older woman.
Color is such a personal choice, and since it doesn’t affect the price of the pearl, you can let your imagination and taste lead you to any color you desire. Check out our pearl color page to see some of the choices.
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