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Pearl Quality relative to cost?


Pearls are relatively new to me as to purchases. I keep running
into the question… What quality are you looking for? . . .

I am not aware of any standards relative to quality (please
comment)?? . . . unlike diamonds and the beginning of semi precious
gems standard. Some of the quality and pricing issues are obvious;
size, color (with the exception of ‘white’ for which I receive the
answer that a slightly ‘pinky-white is the better quality’), and
’roundness, but what about the size and material of the seed
excluding natural pearls of course which I am advise that currently ,
make up only a very, very, small per-cent of the market. That is,
'All pearls are basically seeded today and therefore are cultured.
Therefore, how do you judge the pearl quality as to the ‘coating’ or
nacre (spelling is incorrect) . . . Do you ask…"What was the size
of the seed or what is the thickness of the coating?



Hi Jim, I deal mostly with Tahitian pearls, but I think the factors
are similar for nearly all pearls. Here are some of the factors:

  1. Species of oyster: This seems obvious, I know, but it is a very
    basic factor nevertheless. Tahitians and South Seas pearls are more
    valued than freshwater pearls and, I think, Akoyas (although I could
    be wrong with Akoyas).

  2. Shape: Perfect rounds are the ideal in most cases, but drops,
    buttons, ringed pearls, and even baroques are still very nice. Mabes
    and keishis are less valued in general, but can be used to create
    some incredible pieces.

  3. Size: This of course is relative to the species. South Seas
    pearls come from one of the largest species of pearl oyster, and can
    range usually from 9-18mm in diameter. Tahitians are close behind
    with average size 8-13mm. Larger specimens of each species do occur,
    but they are rare. Akoyas are much smaller, 5-10mm, I think.

  4. Surface quality: Basically, this refers to the surface flaws (aka
    pits, birthmarks, beautymarks, etc.) that show up on a pearl’s
    surface. The grading system for Tahitians is AAA (no flaws), A (flaws
    on < 10% of surface), B (<33% of surface), C (<67% of surface) and D
    (>67% of surface). D grade Tahitians are illegal to export from
    French Polynesia.

  5. Orient or lustRe: The layers of nacre are somewhat translucent
    and can create a reflective surface. The more mirror-like the
    surface, the more valued it is. A pearl with a dull surface often has
    very few layers of nacre and is considered pearl quality. This is
    also a way to spot dyed or irradiated black pearls. White pearls that
    have been dyed or irradiated so as to appear black usually have a
    very dull orient since the coloring process makes the nacre less

  6. Color: To me, this is a very relative factor because different
    people like different colors, especially in Tahitians. Some like the
    black, black, black color. Others prefer peacock green or a mix of
    colors. Among South Seas, gold is one of the most highly prized
    colors. With Akoyas, white, white, white.

If you have other questions, feel free to get in touch with me

JoAnna Kelleher, co-owner
Pearl Exotics Trading Company, LLC
Phoenix, AZ
Phn# 623.845.0998
Fax# 623.845.0917


Try He ha a couple of good books on pearls,
as well as other precious gem stones. Just passing Thrpugh


I came into this conversation late and don’t know the orginal
question, however I do have imput on the subject of pearls and
prices. I wrote about six months ago that I had been noticing that
the prices of freshwater pearls had climbed, I was paying more for
the same size and quality I had been getting for about one-third
less. Others wrote that they had noticed the same thing.

Now imagine my surprise when I just got back from the latest GL&W
show where I purchased strands of 6 mm round white with rose’
overtones GREAT looking SALTWATER pearls from $20 to $25 per

( I do know the difference and wasn’t sold a bill of goods). I am
sorry now that I did not purchase a whole hank at that price. I also
got some 5mm whites (saltwater) for (are you ready) $12 per strand.
The point of this post is that I am now paying LESS for saltwater
pearls than I am for freshwaters. I never thought that I would live
long enough.



Finally found the original question.

Jim, The size of the original seed is negligible. It is very very
small in the case of the freshwaters. It is a small piece of the
mantle of another muscle and wouldn’t be of consequence. In a
saltwater pearl however, the mother of pearl bead inserted into the
akoya oyster can be very significant indeed. The usual time frame
for a saltwater is three years, therefore the nacre coating would be
whatever the oyster can deposit in three years time. Anything less
would result in a pearl of lesser quality, tending to chip or
otherwise not have the luster that would be desirable. These are
sometimes offered at a great discount and are generally NOT a good
buy. (Trivia: The most sought after mother of pearl shell preferred
for saltwater pearl production comes from the Tennessee,
Mississippi!). I suggest that you explore Fred Ward’s book on Pearls
that should run you about $16. It is good and to the point.

When I buy pearls, these are the things I look for: 1) Luster.
Without it, they are just beads. 2) Color. As you pointed out,
overtones of pink are preferred by the caucasian population.
Hispanics find that a gold overtone blends nicely with the Latin
skintone. I try to have a wide assortment available to please almost
everyone. 3) Shape. Although not as important as it once was, round
is still probably the most preferred for necklace strands. I have
had great success with baroque’s both in strands and in designer
rings and pendants. China is doing some really cool things with
pearls these days, which brings me back to youyr original question.
In some of the new extra large Chinese freshwater round pearls, they
are using a new technique (we think, we cannot be sure as they will
not tell us and I cannot blame them) where they take say a 6mm
roundish freshwater pearl, mill it to true round and then insert it
into the freshwater muscle similar to the process used in saltwater
pearl to let it again be coated with nacre and become quite sizable
and still retain the roundness. They are quite striking, though not
of the quality of Tahitians. We have cut them in two and in three
and probably four and this is what we (America) surmises they do. To
fully see the amount of nacre coating on a saltwater pearl
(thickness of coating) one must literally X-ray the pearl. It is
sometimes wise to ask the dealer if they have an idea of the mm of
thickness (if they know). In summary, the more you handle pearls,
hold them, look closely at them and shop around, the more familiar
you will be and the differences should become apparent. Suzanne


Interesting that I just returned from a GLW show and found the same
thing… saw and almost purchased the same pearls … bet it was the
same dealer… the pearls were a pinky-rose color and were salt
according to him… he had no ideas as to the size of the seed which
made me very suspicious… should have purchased anyway… prices was
the same… also found a fresh water dealer and purchased 6mm
rounds… he said that FW pearls were going down in price???.. go


    Pearls are relatively new to me as to purchases.  I keep
running into the question.... What quality are you looking for? . .

try getting a copy of “The Pearl Buying Guide”. It’s an entire book
on how to buy pearls - full of all that you mentioned and

ginger meek allen
Little Cottage Studio
Wake Forest
North Carolina