Type of Pearls

Akoya - This is the most familiar type of pearl sold in necklaces. Akoyas from Japan and China are grown in pearl oysters and are known for their shimmering beauty and warm colors, which range from rose, cream and gold, to silvery white and blue/gray.


South Sea - Large (10mm and up) cultured pearls grown in tropical and semi-tropical oysters in the South Seas and around the coast of Australia. Their colors range from silvery white to gold, and they are quite costly due to their size and rarity.


Tahitian Black - Large (10mm and up) cultured pearls grown in black-lipped oysters in French Polynesia. Color range from silvery gray and green to deep purple and black. Their large sizes and unique colors command premium prices.


Mabe - Large, hemispherical cultured pearls grown against the inside shells of oysters rather than in the oysters' bodies. Less expensive than round cultured pearls due to their half-round shape, they are most popular in earrings, rings and brooches.


Freshwater - Pearls cultivated in mussels, not oysters, in freshwater lakes and rivers in China, Japan and the United States. Due to their easy cultivation, freshwaters are fairly inexpensive. Shapes can be freeform, rice shaped, off-round or spherical. Colors range from milky white to peach, pink and lavender.


Keshi - Also known as seed pearls, these tiny pearls can be as small as a grain of sand and form accidentally in many cultured pearl oysters.


Baroque - Cultured pearls that are irregularly-shaped, yet often lustrous and appealing. Due to their variable shapes, baroque pearls are often less costly than round, cultured pearls.


What to Look for in Pearls


Lustre - A combination of surface brilliance and a deep glow that seems to emanate from within the heart of a pearl. The luster of a good quality pearl should be bright, not dull, enabling you to see your own reflection clearly on the surface of a pearl. A pearl that appears too white, dull or chalky indicates poor quality.


Surface - Since cultured pearls are grown by oysters in nature, it is rare to find a pearl whose surface is free from any type of blemish. Blemishes can include disfiguring spots, bumps, pits and cracks on the surface of a pearl. The fewer blemishes on the surface of a pearl, the more valuable it will be.


Shape - It is very rare to find a perfectly round pearl, but generally, the rounder the pearl, the more valuable it is. Cultured pearls also come in oval, pear and baroque shapes.


Color - Cultured pearls come in a wide range of colors from pink to black. While the color of a pearl is often a matter of personal preference, people with fair skin tend to look best in slightly pink or silvery white pearls, while cream and golden pearls look best on those with darker complexions.


Size - Cultured pearls are measured by their diameter in millimeters. They can be smaller than one millimeter, in the case of seed pearls, or as large as 20 millimeters for a big South Sea pearl. With all other factors being equal, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it will be since it is difficult for an oyster to grow a pearl larger than five millimeters. The most popular size of pearls sold around the world is about seven millimeters.


Matching - When buying a strand of cultured pearls, matching is very important. All the pearls in a good quality strand should be evenly matched in terms of luster, surface, shape, color and size. Well-matched pearl necklaces command top prices because pearl growers must harvest about 10,000 oysters in order to find enough pearls that match closely enough to make up a simple, 16-inch strand.


Cultured Pearl Necklaces


Choker - A necklace 14 inches to 15 inches in length that rests on the collarbone.


Princess - An 18-inch necklace strung with either graduated or uniform pearls.


Matinee - A slightly longer necklace, usually 20 to 24 inches in length.

Opera- A 30- to 36-inch necklace, this length should fall to the breastbone and can often be worn long or doubled.


Rope or Sautoir - Any necklace longer than opera length. Ropes are often worn knotted or with a shortener for added versatility of style.


Dog Collar - A multiple strand pearl necklace that fits closely around the neck.


Bib - A single necklace with multiple strands of pearls in varying lengths that are worn nested together.


Torsade - A necklace in which several strands of pearls (usually freshwater) are twisted together and held with a special clasp.


Graduated - A necklace with pearls of gradually increasing size with the smallest at the back and the largest at the center.Uniform - A necklace in which all pearls appear to be the same size, although there is usually a slight difference between the center and end pearl.



Caring for Your Cultured Pearls


Remember that cultured pearls are precious jewels and should always be treated as such.


Don't toss them in a purse or jewelry box where they can become scratched by metal or stones.


Do treat your pearls gently; keep them in a chamois bag, or wrap them in tissue when you put them away.


Don't expose pearls to acid-based hair sprays, cosmetics or perfumes, or clean them with chemicals or abrasives.


Do wash them with mild soap and water when you take them off. This will remove any traces of hair spray or perfume.


Always have pearls strung with a knot between each pearl to avoid abrasion and to prevent loss if the string should break. Be sure to bring your pearl necklace to your jeweler for restringing once a year, as cosmetics and ordinary wear can damage or stretch the nylon threads on which the pearls are strung.