What makes pearls valuable? This week I was invited by InStore Magazine to write an article on what makes one pearl necklace $10 while another is $10,000. I was so honored to take on this article (my first!) and with the help of The Pearl Girls Media Specialist, Claire Barron, we were able to put together some great info for jewelry store owners. It is a wonderful topic (and a great question!). I invite you to check out a copy of October’s issue of InStore to see this article and to review the entire issue, which will be dedicated to pearls.
Pearls have a rich history as a sacred and revered gem, and this reverence continues today. In recent years, the market has been flooded with pearls of varying quality, and it is up to the salesperson to convey what makes these expensive pearls so valuable.
Imagine for a minute the farms that culture pearls. They first source, or cultivate, the mollusks which grow the pearls. Once they are mature enough, workers must initiate the culturing process, which usually results in the death of up to 50% of the oysters cultured. These oysters that survive must then battle with parasites and pollutants in the water, and they have to be cared and tended to for years while they are producing pearls. The pearls that are harvested are of varying qualities with only 1% being actual gem quality pearls. This process is long and difficult, and since it is a completely organic process, it is as difficult to control as the weather. We may take gorgeous strand of pearls for granted, but sellers must let their customers know how truly remarkable such gems are.
The most important thing about selling pearls, as with most gems, is understanding them.
There are two main kinds of pearls: natural and cultured. Almost all pearls on the market are cultured. Pearls are cultured in either freshwater or saltwater, and here is where you will come across your first differences in value and price.
Although these pearls share the same chemical composition, saltwater pearls tend to cost more because their production is smaller and the cost of production is higher. When it comes to freshwater pearls, the range in quality and price covers a larger spectrum because freshwater pearls are by far the most widely produced in the industry.
There are three main types of saltwater pearls: Akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian pearls. Akoya pearls used to be the go-to pearls for the classic necklace because of their high luster, beautiful color, smaller size and accessible price. Freshwater pearls have created a large competition for these pearls. South Sea Pearl oysters can grow as large as a dinner plate, which in turn makes for rather large pearls. They are, on average, 13mm in diameter and are known for their satiny luster, thick nacre and soft colors. Tahitian pearls are known for their dark color, which can range from purple to greenish hues.
Pearls do not have a universal grading system, but there are seven quality factors that are used to describe and determine the value of pearls. These characteristics are size, shape, color, luster, surface quality, nacre and matching.
Large pearls are always more expensive than a similar, smaller pearl because they take longer to form. Due to the rarity of perfectly round pearls, they are by far the most valuable shape of a cultured pearl. Pearls with high luster and a smooth surface are also among the more desirable value factors. The color of a pearl is more up to personal opinion, however it can also be considered as an important identifier.
Pearls should always be displayed to show their value and handled in a way that reflects the reverence we feel for these precious gems. Women who try on pearls should always view themselves in a full-length mirror to grasp how a truly beautiful strand of pearls can transform their look and affect their overall view of themselves. Understanding this transformation is almost as important as understanding the qualities and characteristics of the pearls themselves.
By India Rows, GIA Pearls Graduate and Founder of The Pearl Girls. Co-authored by Claire Barron, Media Specialist with The Pearl Girls. www.ThePearlGirls.com 1-888-870-7390