Guide: What to Look for When Buying Pearls & Their Care

When I embarked on my quest to find the perfect pearls, I quickly realised it’s a journey filled with beauty, complexity, and a touch of mystique. Pearls, with their lustrous allure, have captivated hearts for centuries, becoming a staple in jewellery collections around the world. But as I delved deeper, it became evident that not all pearls are created equal. Knowing what to look for when buying pearls can transform your shopping experience from daunting to delightful.

Navigating the pearl market requires a keen eye for detail and an understanding of what makes each pearl unique. From the iridescent glow of Akoya pearls to the bold charm of South Sea pearls, each type offers something special. I’ll share insights on how to spot quality pearls, understand their grading system, and make an informed choice that marries beauty with value. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or a first-time buyer, these tips will ensure your pearl purchase is nothing short of perfect.

Understanding Pearl Types

As someone with a keen interest in the beauty of pearls, I’ve come to realize how critical it is to distinguish between the different types available in the market. This understanding is crucial for anyone looking to make an informed pearl purchase. It’s not just about the aesthetic appeal; knowing the types of pearls helps in appreciating their value, rarity, and the effort it takes to cultivate or find them. Let’s dive into the main categorizations: natural vs cultured pearls and freshwater vs saltwater pearls.

Natural vs Cultured Pearls

Distinguishing between natural and cultured pearls is foundational in pearl education. Natural pearls form spontaneously in the wild without any human intervention. They are incredibly rare and, as a result, highly valuable. Finding a natural pearl is akin to stumbling upon a hidden treasure, a rarity that occurs once in thousands of molluscs.

On the other hand, cultured pearls result from a meticulously controlled process where humans introduce a foreign body into the mollusc to stimulate pearl production. This innovation in pearl farming allows for the creation of beautiful pearls with less effort than it takes to find a natural pearl. Cultured pearls dominate the market today, offering a range of quality and prices suitable for different budgets.

Freshwater vs Saltwater Pearls

The difference between freshwater and saltwater pearls is another key aspect to consider. Freshwater pearls are cultivated in lakes, rivers, and ponds, predominantly in China. These pearls are known for their diverse shapes, sizes, and colours. Due to their solid nacre composition, freshwater pearls can be quite durable, offering a wide array of options for pearl enthusiasts.

Saltwater pearls, including the esteemed Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea pearls, are cultivated in oceans. These pearls tend to have a rounder shape and a more lustrous sheen compared to their freshwater counterparts. Saltwater pearls are often considered more luxurious due to their rarity and the higher costs associated with their cultivation.

Understanding the types of pearls, whether considering the natural vs cultured distinction or the freshwater vs saltwater categorization, is essential for anyone interested in buying pearls. This knowledge not only aids in making a more informed purchase but also in appreciating the beauty and uniqueness of each pearl. Whether I’m selecting a piece for myself or advising others, I always emphasize the importance of recognizing these differences to truly appreciate the pearls’ value and charm.

Evaluating Pearl Quality

When buying pearls, recognising their quality is paramount. My exploration into this fascinating world has taught me that knowing what to look for can significantly impact the beauty and value of your purchase. Building on previous insights about types and origins of pearls, I’ll guide you through evaluating pearl quality with a focus on key aspects you mustn’t overlook.

The Five Virtues: Lustre, Surface, Shape, Colour, and Size

Firstly, the five virtues play a crucial role in determining a pearl’s quality. Each virtue offers a unique lens through which to view and assess pearls.

  • Lustre: The mirror-like quality of a pearl’s surface reveals its lustre. High-quality pearls reflect light beautifully, exhibiting a radiant sheen. When you gaze at pearls, those with exceptional lustre will stand out with their captivating glow.
  • Surface: Close inspection of a pearl’s surface can reveal a lot about its quality. Ideally, the surface should be smooth and free from blemishes such as spots, pits, or cracks. Imperfections may detract from a pearl’s appeal, affecting its value.
  • Shape: While round pearls are often the most sought after, other shapes like teardrops, ovals, or baroque pearls have their unique charm. Symmetry is key; the more symmetrical the shape, the higher the quality and value.
  • Colour: Pearls come in a variety of colours, from classic white to black, pink, gold, and even green. The choice of colour depends on personal preference, but ensure the colour is natural and even throughout for an indication of quality.
  • Size: Typically, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it is, assuming it maintains high quality across the other virtues. Size is measured in millimetres, with significant price increases observed as pearls grow larger.

The Importance of Nacre Thickness

Another critical factor in evaluating pearl quality is the nacre thickness. Nacre, the substance pearls are made of, dictates not only the lustre but also the durability of a pearl.

  • Nacre Thickness: A thick layer of nacre contributes to a deeper, more luminous sheen, enhancing the pearl’s beauty. It also ensures that the pearl will endure through decades of wear. Cultured pearls with thin nacre may wear down or lose their lustre quickly, so opting for pearls with thick nacre is advisable.

Understanding these elements transforms pearl shopping from a daunting task into an informed decision-making process. By focusing on the five virtues and nacre thickness, I can confidently navigate the complexities of pearl quality, ensuring my purchases are not only beautiful but also valuable and enduring.

Choosing the Right Pearl Colour

After delving into the essentials of pearl types and assessing quality factors, it’s crucial to consider the aesthetic aspect, particularly the pearl colour, which plays a significant role in the overall appeal of the pearl jewellery. The hue of a pearl can dramatically influence its look on the wearer and its compatibility with different skin tones and occasions. Let me guide you through selecting the perfect pearl colour to complement your style and occasion.

Popular Pearl Colours and What They Signify

Pearl colours range widely, and each hue carries its unique beauty and significance. White pearls, for example, signify purity and are traditional choices for wedding jewellery. They exude a classic elegance that never goes out of style. Black or Tahitian pearls, on the other hand, emanate a sense of mystery and sophistication, making them ideal for formal events or as statement pieces. Pink or peach pearls are often associated with romance and femininity, perfect for softer, more casual looks. Gold pearls, rare and luxurious, represent wealth and prosperity, and they’re sought after for their exotic appeal and unique luster.

When choosing pearl colour, it’s not just about personal preference but also the message or image you wish to project. Each colour has its place, and knowing what these colours signify can help in making a choice that best reflects your personality or complements the occasion.

The Role of Complexion in Pearl Colour Selection

My complexion is something I always consider when advising on pearl colour selection. The right pearl colour can enhance natural skin tones, while an unsuitable shade may appear dull or mismatched. For individuals with cooler skin tones, pearls with silver, white, or pink overtones enhance their natural radiance. Conversely, those with warmer skin tones may find pearls with gold, cream, or peach overtones more flattering.

It’s essential to try pearls against your skin and observe how they complement your complexion under different lighting conditions. This step ensures the chosen pearls highlight your best features, making your skin glow and your eyes sparkle. Remember, the goal is to find pearls that harmonise with your skin, enhancing your natural beauty rather than overshadowing it.

Choosing the right pearl colour involves a blend of understanding the significance of various hues, considering personal style preferences, and taking into account how those colours interact with your complexion. Armed with this knowledge, you’re better equipped to select pearls that not only look stunning but also carry a deeper meaning and harmony with your individuality.

Pearls and Jewellery Types

Following the insightful journey into the nuances of pearl colours, grading, and what they symbolise, it’s paramount to delve into the types of pearl jewellery available. Each piece, from necklaces to earrings, encapsulates unique characteristics and opportunities for personal expression. I’ll guide you through selecting splendid pearl jewellery, mindful of its grading, to ensure your choices resonate with both style and significance.

Classic Pearl Necklaces and Their Grading

Among the vast array of pearl jewellery, classic pearl necklaces hold a special place. Renowned for their elegance, these necklaces range from simple strands to complex patterns, embodying sophistication. When considering a classic pearl necklace, it’s crucial to focus on grading, which assesses lustre, surface quality, shape, colour, and size.

A top-grade pearl necklace boasts pearls with high lustre, minimal surface imperfections, uniform shape and colour, large size, and substantial nacre thickness. This combination ensures the necklace not only shines brilliantly but also stands the test of time. For instance, the Akoya pearls, known for their superior lustre and roundness, are often associated with the highest quality in classic necklaces. Similarly, South Sea and Tahitian pearls, favoured for their large size and unique colours, offer luxurious alternatives.

Selecting a classic pearl necklace with an exemplary grade enhances one’s personal style with a touch of timeless elegance. Whether it’s for a formal event or daily wear, a well-chosen pearl necklace can elevate any outfit, making it a versatile and cherished addition to any jewellery collection.

Earrings, Rings, and Bracelets: Mix and Match

Diversifying beyond necklaces, pearls find their beauty echoed in earrings, rings, and bracelets, each offering a unique way to adorn oneself with this exquisite gem. While earrings may frame the face with a gentle glow, rings offer a subtle statement of grace, and bracelets encapsulate wrists in elegance. Mixing and matching these pieces allows for a personalized jewellery ensemble that reflects individual taste and style.

With earrings, the focus shifts to size and lustre, preferring pearls that catch the light beautifully without overwhelming. Pearl earrings set in gold or silver can complement any complexion, enhancing natural beauty. Rings, on the other hand, often feature a single pearl, making quality paramount. A smooth, round pearl on a ring becomes a centrepiece of attention, embodying purity and sophistication.

Bracelets provide a canvas for creativity, combining pearls of various sizes, colours, and types. A bracelet showcasing a range of pearl hues can tell a story or signify personal meaning, making it more than just an accessory but a piece of wearable art.

Caring for Your Pearls

After selecting the perfect pearl jewellery that complements my complexion and reflects my personal taste, I’ve learned that taking proper care of these precious gems is crucial to maintain their beauty and lustre. Here, I’ll share my insights on the best practices for cleaning and storing pearls, ensuring they remain a timeless addition to any jewellery collection.

Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

When it comes to pearls, gentle care is paramount. I make it a habit to clean my pearls after each wear, using a soft, damp cloth to wipe off any residues that might have accumulated on the surface. This simple step helps in preserving their natural lustre and preventing any potential damage from substances like perfume, makeup, or sweat.

For a deeper clean, I occasionally dampen a soft cloth in a solution of lukewarm water mixed with a few drops of mild detergent, carefully wiping each pearl. It’s important to avoid submerging pearl jewellery in water or using harsh chemicals, as these can weaken the silk thread used in stringing pearls or damage their delicate surface.

Once cleaned, I lay my pearls flat on a soft cloth to dry completely before storing them. This practice ensures the silk thread doesn’t stretch and the pearls are free from any moisture that could harm their lustre or cause decay.

Storage Solutions to Keep Pearls Lustrous

Storing pearls correctly is just as important as regular cleaning to maintain their beauty. I store my pearls separately from other jewellery to avoid scratches on their soft surface. Using a soft-lined jewellery box or pouch specifically for my pearls protects them from being knocked against harder gemstones or metal pieces, which could cause damage.

Furthermore, I ensure my pearls are stored in a mildly humid environment to prevent them from drying out, which can lead to cracking. Avoiding places with extreme temperature changes or direct sunlight helps in preserving their sheen and colour.

By implementing these cleaning and storage tips, I’ve managed to keep my pearl jewellery looking as radiant as the day I bought them. Proper care not only enhances the longevity of pearls but also ensures they can be cherished and possibly handed down as heirlooms for generations to come.


Buying pearls is an art form that requires a keen eye for detail. From understanding the differences between types to choosing the right colour that complements your style, every step is crucial. But remember, the journey doesn’t end with the purchase. Caring for your pearls is paramount to ensuring their longevity and lustre. By gently cleaning them after each wear and storing them properly, you’ll keep your pearls looking magnificent for years to come. Trust me, with the right knowledge and care, your pearl jewellery will not only be a statement of elegance but also a timeless treasure that enhances your collection.