Today, the pearls from the Japanese Akoyah oysters are becoming the most prized, as unfavorable biological and environmental conditions have reduced the availability of larger and finer quality pearls from the salt waters of Japan. Human innovation, however, has compensated for nature’s hardships as man has perfected the cultivation of the larger freshwater oysters in the lakes of China, producing an abundant crop of beautiful cultured pearls ranging from lustrous white to naturally occurring soft pastel colors.
To find beautiful pearls in much larger sizes, exceeding nine and ten millimeters in diameter, you must look to the warm waters of the South Pacific where magnificent whites from Australia and dramatic natural blacks from Tahiti are harvested to produce one-of-a-kind necklaces or combined with diamonds for truly magnificent pieces of jewelry.
In the cultivation process of all pearls, man can only begin the process by implanting an irritant within the muscle of the oyster. After that it is up to the mollusk to produce a fine gem, a very poor gem, or something in-between. Similar to the way any gemstone is judged, the value of any pearl will depend on rarity, beauty, size, color, luster and degree of perfection. In the case of a strand of pearls, the quality of how well the pearls are matched is also an important consideration.
Quality and Worth of Pearls
The quality and worth of pearls are generally judged in the following categories:
The thickness of a pearl’s nacre is one of two elements that determine pearl size. The second factor is the size of the nucleus that was implanted within the mollusk. Nacre thickness also determines a pearl’s durability and resistant to discoloration. Cultured pearls with a thin-nacre despite its size will be more vulnerable to blemishes and cracking.
A pearls luster is enigmatic, and its iridescence can mesmerize the onlooker through its sheer sublime simplicity. Luster is determined by the thickness of the nacre as well. A pearl bearing a smooth and blemish free surface possesses a high degree of luster. You can judge the luster of a pearl by attempting to see your reflection on the surface of the pearl. If the pearl projects a blurry reflection, the pearl is deemed as having a low quality. If you see a fairly clear reflection of yourself, you are holding a high quality pearl with a thick-nacre.
Size is another important factor in determining the quality of pearls. Large pearls are usually produced by older or more mature oysters. The larger the pearl is, the older the mollusk or oyster.
Pearls are measured in millimeters: Small 3 to 4.5 mm; Medium 5-6 mm; Large 7-8 mm; and Very Large 8 mm and beyond.
Most pearls are round in shape, but very few pearls are perfectly spherical. Perfectly round pearls are the most valuable. You can usually test the spherical perfection of a pearl by rolling it on a flat surface. The smoother it rolls, the rounder it is. Pearls come in numerous shapes: round, tear drop, ringed, off-round and baroque. Round pearls are the most valuable and the least valuable being baroque pearls which are usually irregular in shape. The intensity of the irregularity varies in degrees, and in some instances, baroque can seem perfectly round to the naked eye.
Pearls are usually classified in the following colors: white, cream, pink, silver, black, and gold. Quality pearls will have an even color with no blemishes. The overtone of a pearl is determined by the combination of colors projected when a pearl is rotated and they usually have a rose, green, or blue hue. What makes pearls so mesmerizing is their color projection. A good quality pearl will emanate its color from within. The depth of a pearl’s color projection adds greatly to its value.
Strings of Pearls
The value of pearl jewelry is also judged by the harmonious similarity of the pearls’ size, color, and luster especially when they are strung as necklaces. There is the overall value of the pearls as a single gem, and the overall value of a piece of pearl jewelry. Pearls that are set or strung poorly can lose market value because an incompetent jeweler has decided to execute the jewelry’s composition poorly.
Cultured pearls are graded in the following categories: AAA (Extra Fine), AA (Fine), A (Good), and BB (Commercial).
AAA grade pearls are spherical in shape, even in color and luster, flawless, and they have a high level of luster and iridescence.
AA+ grade pearls have a high luster and iridescence and are 95% flawless. Most AA+ pearls are used in necklaces and bracelets.
AA grade pearls generally have a lesser degree of luster and iridescence; they also lack color uniformity with slight blemishes. Most AA grade pearls are drilled on the blemish to hide the flaw.
A grade pearls have less luster and iridescence than AA pearls. The naked eye might be able to detect flaws and the shape will be slightly irregular.
BB grade pearls will tend to look chalky white and they will have less luster and, iridescence. They will also tend to have blemishes.
AAA and AA+ ,AA pearls are usually used in pearl necklaces because jewelers are able to match size, color, and luster of the pearls fairly easily.