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Pearl 101

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Lorelei

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Since we have so many knowledgeable folks here, and I would very much like to learn more, I thought it would be a good idea to have a pearl tutorial.

What are important factors to consider when intending to purchase pearls? Types, origin, colour, lustre, pricing etc? Please contribute any info that would be useful for the consumer who is in the market for pearls folks - one day it will be me!!!
 

Brown.Eyed.Girl

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Date: 3/4/2009 9:38:41 AM
Author:Lorelei


Since we have so many knowledgeable folks here, and I would very much like to learn more, I thought it would be a good idea to have a pearl tutorial.


What are important factors to consider when intending to purchase pearls? Types, origin, colour, lustre, pricing etc? Please contribute any info that would be useful for the consumer who is in the market for pearls folks - one day it will be me!!!
I second Lorelei. There''s so much I''d love to know about pearls - I really know nothing. Please, experts, stop by and share your wisdom and experience!
 

Streeter1

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The question is difficult to answer without more specifics. Maybe it would be easier to break it down one by one.

Type:
This really is a preference. There are four primary types of pearls on the market today; akoya pearls, freshwater pearls, South Sea pearls (white and gold) and Tahitian pearls (aka black South Sea pearls).

Quality akoya pearls tend to be perfectly round, with a ball bearing-sort of luster. Akoya is the most classic of all pearl types, and the first to be commercially produced since Mikimoto''s 1916 patent. Akoya pearls have a bead centre.

Freshwater pearls are mass produced in China, with each mussel producing 24 to 36 pearls per shell. Most freshwater pearls are baroque, but some freshwater pearls are just as beautiful as high-grade akoya pearls, yet cost much less. Freshwater pearls are, for the most part, tissue nucleated - they have no bead.

South Sea pearls are larger than akoya and freshwater on average. They are cultured in the largest of the nacreous pearl-bearing mollusks, the Pinctada maxima. They can grow larger than 20 mm, and although they have a bead core, they are not always perfectly spherical. The luster is not as bright as akoya (typically), but this has a lot to do with the post-harvest treatment of akoya which enhances their luster.

Tahitian pearls (which does not include but I will, Cook Island Pearls, Fijian Pearls, Micronesian Pearls and all other pearls produced by the Pinctada margaritifera), are the only naturally-occurring black pearls (but not really black), with the exception the the pearls cultured in Baja California. The pearls have colors ranging from white to jet black, and every shade in between.

Pearl type is really just a matter of taste.

Origin:
Origin means little, it is all about quality. A quality Cook Island pearl is cultured in the Black-lip oyster, just as a quality Tahitian pearl is. They are the same pearl. An akoya pearl from China cultured in the Pinctada fucata martensi is cultured in the same shell as the Japanese akoya pearl. Origin does not matter - quality does.

Lustre:
This is the most important value attribute assigned to pearl grading. But it varies by pearl type, and can only be accurately assessed when comparing like-type pearls. An akoya pearl with high luster will likely outshine (on its surface) and equally high-quality freshwater pearl. South Sea pearls have a mooted luster when compared to other salt water pearls, but the luster shines from within. The beauty is different, and it is difficult to say one is better than the other.

If the pearls are of the same type, a higher luster pearl of the same size as another, even with slightly more spotting, is considered a more valuable pearl. The higher luster, the more the pearl *pops*.

Pricing:
A pearl or a strand of pearls is worth what someone will pay for it. This is not necessarily restricted to a consumer level. Wholesalers must also determine what price their customers will accept. Pearls can cost as little as $1 per strand (for rice-shape freshwaters), and as much as $1 million per strand (for top-grade, 20 mm South Sea pearls).
 

Lorelei

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That is very helpful Streeter, thank you so much!
 

jmtomaui

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Streeter, I agree with Lorelei that this is very helpful! Thank you and please feel free to continue posting to enhance our (OK - my) limited knowledge.

Julie
 

Skippy123

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Streeter welcome to the forum and thank you for the fabulous information
 

Brown.Eyed.Girl

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Streeter thank you! That was extremely, extremely helpful - much appreciated!
 

basbasics

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Hi Streeter,

Thanks for the info - really useful. I am actually doing some further research into pearls, in an attempt to make an analogy with the developments in the synthetic diamond sector. I know that pearls come in a great variety of shapes, and that standard price systems are not as well developped in the pearl industry as they are in the diamond industry. However, on a like-for-like basis: what would be in your opinion the overall average percentage price difference between a perfectly round white natural pearl, and an exactly similar cultured pearl?
 

Streeter1

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Date: 4/17/2009 9:03:21 AM
Author: basbasics
Hi Streeter,

Thanks for the info - really useful. I am actually doing some further research into pearls, in an attempt to make an analogy with the developments in the synthetic diamond sector. I know that pearls come in a great variety of shapes, and that standard price systems are not as well developped in the pearl industry as they are in the diamond industry. However, on a like-for-like basis: what would be in your opinion the overall average percentage price difference between a perfectly round white natural pearl, and an exactly similar cultured pearl?
There is no simple answer to this because there are so many different factors.

The smaller the pearls, the closer they would be in value. it is possible to buy, for example, a round natural Pteria from Mexico for around $1000. If the pearl is between 7 and 8 mm, a similar cultured may be only a few dollars if freshwater, or up to $100 if akoya.

But if the natural pearl were a US freshwater, the value would not be nearly as high as saltwater. If the natural pearl were exceptionally large or of exceptional quality, the value could be limitless. The baroda pearl necklace, for example, sold for more than $7 million (although it traded hands wholesale for less than two, earlier in the same year). A like South Sea pearl strand would cost in the range of $100,000.

So I really don''t think there is an average, overall percentage one can assign to natural versus cultured.
 
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