Buying Pearls

buypearls1Treasure of the sea, queen of the ocean, since the dawn of civilization pearls have been dedicated to women. Over time they have become the symbol of purity. They begin their life in an oyster and are the only jewels that are best left in their natural state and do not require cutting or polishing. They are found in a range of colours - white, yellow, pink, gold and grey. There is still a great deal of confusion over pearls. Normally one distinguishes them as either real or fake, meaning that the real ones are those that are produced naturally by the oyster and the fake ones being those produced by man. This is a misconception.


Natural pearls are very rare and to find one at least 15.000 oysters need to be opened! A pearl is born in an oyster by a natural process of reaction to an external element, ( a grain of sand, a fragment of sea-shell, a tiny piece of coral) that inserts itself into the oyster. The oyster, irritated, reacts by isolating it with layers of nacre, thus forming a pearl.

Cultivated pearls are formed in an oyster, after a complex grafting process where a tiny nucleus is inserted into the oyster, around which the oyster develops layers of nacre quite spontaneously.
Thus the difference between natural pearls and cultivated pearls is the same as that of a wild flower growing naturally or planting a seed in a greenhouse for that same flower to grow - both are identical but for the human intervention during the cultivation process.
Cultivated pearls may also be produced in fresh water. They were first commercially successful at the beginning of 1928 from Japan, from an area near Kyoto, known as Lake Biwa. Eventually their high quality set the standard for all freshwater cultured pearls which followed. The term "Biwa" became synonymous with fine freshwater cultured pearls.

South Sea Pearls are pearls produced south of the Sea of Japan. Australian, Indonesian, Philippine and Tahitian pearls are all commonly known as South Sea Pearls. Their size generally ranges from 10-17mm, however some pearls can range in diameter from 18-21mm.The biggest pearl cultivated so far is kept at the Papeete Museum and measures 24mm!


Generally the following criteria are used to grade pearls :

The most sought after shape is round, however for a perfectly spherical pearl is rare, and therefore the most precious.
The common categories for pearl shapes are:

  • round,
  • semi-round,
  • drop ,
  • button,
  • baroque,(an irregularly shaped cultured pearl)
  • semi-baroque,
  • keshi (pearls that do not contain a nucleus and are usually irregular in shape), and
  • mabe(a hemispherical pearl that is joined to the inner part of the shell).

Although round pearls are a desirable choice for necklaces, there is also demand for individual designs reflecting the beauty of all the variety of pearl shapes.

buypearls2The size of a pearl is measured in millimeters, by measuring the shortest diameter. If all other factors (luster, clarity, shape and colour) are equivalent, then the larger the pearl the more valuable.

The colour of a pearl is genetically determined by the oyster itself. Factors that can influence the pearl's colour are environmental conditions -such as the type of minerals and metal elements that are in the water. Colours that are commonly classified by pearl graders are as follows: white, pink, silver, blue, grey, cream, yellow, green, and gold

Refers to the glowing appearance of a pearl's surface, and is judged by its brilliance and ability to reflect light. The more crystallized the nacre, the better the luster. This is an important criterion when grading pearls.

This refers to the "cleanness" of a pearl's coating. The cleaner the surface of a pearl, the more valuable it is. The purity of a pearl is graded depending on the amount and size of blemishes on its surface. A pearl is born from nature, and surface flaws cannot be eliminated. Absolute perfection is produced purely by chance and is incredibly rare.

Being of organic nature, over time pearls can show signs of deterioration to their outer surface luster and shine. The principal causes can be blamed on the high degree of acidity of skin perspiration, or certain ingredients contained in cosmetics. Acid substances can penetrate inside pearls via the strand, and therefore it is advisable to have them restrung periodically.

However, careful maintenance of pearls retains their luster for an extremely long period of time. Some suggestions follow:

  • DON'T spray perfume or use other cosmetics on the area of your body close to where you are going to wear your pearls.
  • DO clean your pearls with a clean, soft cloth after wearing them, and store in a jewellery box lined with cloth.
  • ABOVE ALL, DO remember that you are wearing a miracle of nature. So, enjoy wearing your pearls !