Pearls are unique in the gemstone world because they are the most precious organic gems.  They are not created in the earth’s crust, but rather in the soft flesh of an oyster.  For most of human history, pearls have been extremely rare and expensive.  However, in the last century, methods of pearl cultivation have been developed that make fine pearls more accessible to everyone.

9 Things You Should Know Before Buying a Pearl 

  1. Type: The first thing to know when shopping for pearls is that there are several different “varieties” of pearls and they can differ  widely in their values.  Types of pearls include freshwater, saltwater akoya, south sea, and tahitian.  Learn more about How the TYPE affects the value of a pearl
  2. Shape: Pearls form naturally inside mollusks, so their shapes vary as dictated by mother nature.  Certain shapes are considered more valuable than others.  Examples of shapes include round pearls, rice pearls, ringed pearls, tear drop pearls, mabe pearls and freefrom pearls. Learn more about How SHAPE affects the value of a pearl
  3. Surface: One of the most important determiners of a pearl’s quality and value is its surface condition. This refers to how smooth and even the surface is: if there are many small chips, bumps or dull spots, the pearl will be less valuable. Learn more about How SURFACE quality affects the value of  a pearl
  4. Luster: The luster of a pearl is basically its shininess.  A pearl with a very high luster will look almost metallic in the way it reflects light.  Other related characteristics are the colors and overtones inside the luster: the pearly irridescence.  High luster is valuable and dull luster is not.  Look at pictures to learn more about How LUSTER affects the value of  a pearl
  5. Size: Pearls come in a range of sizes.  Very large sizes of some types of pearls can be extremely rare and valuable, while some sizes are common and should not cost very much.  Learn more about How SIZE affects the value of  a pearl
  6. Color: The exact hue of a pearl can affect its value as well.  Especially if the pearl is un-dyed, exotic colors like greens or peaches can be priced at a premium.  Learn more about How COLOR affects the value of a pearl
  7. Matching: The value of a peice of pearl jewelry is largely based on how well matched all the pearls are.  A necklace with pearls that are all identical will be exponentially more valuable than a necklace with mismatched pearls.  See some pictures and read about How MATCHING affects the value of pearl jewelry
  8. Culture, Treatments and Imitations: Almost all pearls available nowadays are cultured -meaning they are “grown” by humans that replicate and control the otherwise random, natural pearl forming process.  Pearls also undergo treatments and are sometimes imitated by “fake” pearls. Read here to learn about Pearl treatments, immitations and culture and how to tell the difference.
  9. Meaning and Symbology: Pearls are very special gemstones.  Among the most precious gems in the world, they are the only gems that are formed by an animal.  They have long inspired wonder and mystery and have a rich symbolism within human cultures.  Learn more about Pearl meaning and symbology to see if it’s something you relate to.


The Most Valuable Pearl

Pearls range dramatically in value depending on their size, color, luster, surface quality, orient, shape, compactness and genesis. The most valuable pearls are natural (uncultured), perfectly round, perfectly smooth and with a high luster. The value of a peice of pearl jewelry (e.g. strand or earrings) is also strongly affected by how well the pearls are matched.  The most valuable pearl jewelry contains pearls that are as identical as possible.

Lowest Value: Small, irregular freshwater pearls with unimpressive luster and orient are the least valuable kinds of pearls.  The 5 pearls that are in this ring might have a combined total worth of less than $10. Medium Value: The best feature of these pearls is their striking color good luster.  However, their value is less because of their many surface flaws and their irregular “circled” and baroque shapes.  This particular strand of pearls is also not well matched since the neighboring pearls differ so grealty. High Value:   Here is a perfect cultured pearl.  It has a very high luster and colorful overtones. Its surface is perfect without any visible blemishes.  It is also perfectly round and quite large (over 10 mm) Highest Value:  These pearls are from a strand of natural (uncultured) pearls.  They are all very round, with good luster and surface quality.  Even further value is added by how well matched the pearls are to each other.  This necklace was auctioned at Christie’s for several million dollars.