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PSA: Request pearl comparison photos in multiple lighting environments

yssie

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Another PSer requested more explanation on something I brought up in another thread, and I think it's a topic that's important enough to merit its own PSA.

When buying pearls - once we've accounted for oyster type, size, shape, and colour, luster (and iridescence is often lumped into the term luster) becomes the most price-critical characteristic - it impacts quality evaluation (and cost) more than skin, blemishing, everything else.

There's of course a huge range of pearl qualities. We on PS tend to only see the better goods, though, and within this subset of "better goods" - luster is often the grade-making quality. Superior luster unilaterally indicates a higher quality of pearl, assuming identical or comparable type/size/shape/colour.

We all know that photos of pearls lie. Or, more accurately, cameras tend to have a difficult time capturing the multitude of nuances that dictate how a given pearl will actually look in-person. But it's easy to believe that a photo that compares two pearls - a photo wherein both pearls are being subjected to exactly the same setup, exactly the same lighting environment, at exactly the same time - is telling the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.

I've noticed a trend of IG and Etsy vendors (haven't seen websites do this, but it's commonplace on IG and Etsy) using certain photography styles to portray pearls at their most lustrous. Higher luster meaning two specific things: Sharper reflections and more contrasty reflections. Sometimes it's in the context of... Just showing the goods off. Sometimes it's vendors comparing two products that they themselves sell. Sometimes it's vendor comparing their products to another vendors' goods. I have my personal opinions on the appropriateness of publicising that last but that's not the point of this thread - PSers, when you're buying pearls be sure to request comparison photos in multiple lighting environments, because it's really easy to take comparison pics that minimize difference in luster between pearls of different real-world quality.

In this thread I shared several sets of WSS pearls: https://www.pricescope.com/community/threads/colourplay-in-white-south-seas.265319/
For the photos in this thread I used two of those WSS pearls - one 11.9mm WSS (called 11-12 OLD in the thread linked above), and one 11.7mm WSS (called 11-12 NEW). 11-12 OLD is a higher-quality pearl than 11-12 NEW - it's more lustrous (sharper reflections and more contrasty) and more iridsecent. The quality difference is easily visible in-person.

All pearl photos taken with my camera - Canon g7x II. No editing besides cropping and text add. I photographed the picture setup with my phone. I'll add high-resolution versions of all the pearl photos at the end of my posts, as I'm not sure how much PS will compress the details in the collages...
 
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yssie

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Example 1: Single direct light source

In this setup I put black cardboard in front of the windowand turned off all lights except the one desk lamp pictured. As you go from left to right in the series,
1. Sharpness of reflections in both pearls increases
2. Contrastiness of reflections in both pearls increases
3. The difference in sharpness between the pearls peaks, then decreases
4. The difference in contrastiness between the pearls peaks, then decreases

LIGHT-ALL.png
LIGHT-ALLA.png

Luster is impossible to differentiate in #1. The pearls are clearly of different quality in #3. In #5, both pearls look quite lustrous - and they look much more similar to each other in #5 than they do in #3. All I did was move the camera relative to the pearl and light source.

None of these photos is lying. This really is how these pearls look, if I put my eyes where the camera is. But... If a consumer doesn't know enough to question the photos then important information will be missed through omission. If a vendor tells a buyer that his Grade AA pearls are almost as good as his Grade AAA pearls, or that his Grade AA pearls are almost as good as another vendor's Grade AAA pearls, and the only photo that buyer sees is taken like #5, that buyer might never realize the difference lighting and setup can make.

If a reputable vendor is willing to take comparison photos, that vendor should be willing to take those photos from various angles and explain his or her lighting setup.

- - - - - - - - - -

LIGHT-1.png LIGHT-2.png
LIGHT-3.png
LIGHT-4.png
LIGHT-5.png
 
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yssie

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Example 2: Single direct light source, pearls in shadow

In my opinion this setup is the most... Well, I'll go ahead and call it egregious. This is the setup that's potentially most misleading, as it permits most complete reduction of very real real-world differences. #4 - they aren't identical in quality, but they can compete with each other. It's a fair matchup. The more you zoom in on that pic the more similar they look. #1, on the other hand, the right pearl is just so obviously outclassed.

Note that camera position progression differs from the first set of pics - that's the shadow...

SH-ALL.png
SHA.png

- - - - - - - - - -

SH1.png
SH2.png
SH3.png
SH4.png
 
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yssie

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Example 3: Facing the window

Here the only light is coming through the window right in front of the pearls (white tissue in front of the window it to diffuse the light a touch).

I've definitely found that great pearls pretty much always look great, except in the most unforgiving lighting, but less-great pearls have much more appearance variance...

WINDOW_ALL.png
WINDOW-ALLA.png

- - - - - - - - - -

WINDOW-1.png
WINDOW-2.png
WINDOW-3.png
WINDOW-4.png
 
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yssie

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For sure!!
I'm really hoping lots of PSers see this thread. I know that it's kind of a dense wade through, but I seriously see this on social media sales platforms ALL THE TIME. And never with additional photos or further explanation - just one or two photo comparisons that portray the lesser quality pearl(s) very favourably, and a short description that highlights the fact that the photographed comparison is very favourable.
No consumer who didn't already know to question it would ever think to question it!!
 
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lissyflo

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There’s some stark differences in your photos! It’s even more scary as an overseas customer as the option to return is effectively removed. A pearl vendors’ equivalent of something like JbG’s pictures would be great - pictures in lots of different environments and from varying distances.
 

MrsBlue

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Thanks for the post!

I have noticed that if I'm looking at a photos of a strand or pearls on a card, some look better only because they have the best lighting and focus in that particular photo. So I would be tempted to order those pearls but in a different photo, other pearls look better because the angle/lighting has now shifted to favor them.

Have you ever requested additional photos and told the vendor exactly how you wanted the photos taken? Or at that point do you just order the lot and resell/return the rejects?
 

yssie

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Thanks for the post!

I have noticed that if I'm looking at a photos of a strand or pearls on a card, some look better only because they have the best lighting and focus in that particular photo. So I would be tempted to order those pearls but in a different photo, other pearls look better because the angle/lighting has now shifted to favor them.

Have you ever requested additional photos and told the vendor exactly how you wanted the photos taken? Or at that point do you just order the lot and resell/return the rejects?
On the few occasions I’ve bought pricey pearls without a return policy I’ve regretted it! So I won't be doing that again. Well, one exception, my very few purchases direct from Takahashi have been fantastic - their products are always better than their photos suggest. But even then I buy with the acknowledgment that I might be about to shoot myself in the foot :lol:

In terms of judging vendor lighting setups - those super-contrasty silhouette style photos always ring the alarms. But just requesting several photos in various lighting should give you enough variance to judge by ::) And I think it's perfectly reasonable to specify any particular photos you want - in sunshine, in shade by a window facing the window, in shade by a window facing away from the window. Some vendors might not be happy about the requests but I've never had one turn me down. And this is really only true of IG and Etsy vendors - vendors with websites tend to have prescriptive photo setups.

One tip - if you see a square reflection that's being held by one hand in the pearls, the vendor is most likely taking photos with a phone. Phone cameras always contain software that automatically "improves" photos -
- Reducing/eliminating blur created by a slightly shaking hand (which also has the effect of sharpening reflections in pearls)
- Amping colour up and auto-whitebalancing (which also has the effect of amping body colour and overtones up)
- Bumping ISO up to support low-light photography (which has the effect of adding a ton of noise - that speckling that obscures the details when you zoom way in)
- Automatically fixing contrast (which has the effect of blackening and whitening reflections - bettering perceived luster)
Unfortunately all of these "improvements" yield pictures that can be surprisingly different from the reality that your eyes would see. I do buy from vendors who take phone photos, I just sort of... Mentally steel myself before I open the box...

My personal rant for the day:
I am rapidly losing patience with vendors of gemstones - luxury goods that are intended to appeal to the eyes - who only use phones to photograph their wares. Some vendors use both cameras and phones - that's fantastic. But only a phone? From now on, if I'm spending hundreds or thousands of dollars, I'm going to only buy from and recommend vendors who care about representing their goods as honestly as possible. That means that I'm no longer going to buy from or recommend vendors who don't include photos taken with an actual camera in their public sales motions. All cameras lie, but phones are rock bottom - they're consistently the absolute worst offenders. And I want to support vendors who hold both their goods and their buyers in higher regard than "rock bottom".
 
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LilAlex

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My personal rant for the day:
I am rapidly losing patience with vendors of gemstones - luxury goods that are intended to appeal to the eyes - who only use phones to photograph their wares.

+1
 

MrsBlue

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Thanks for the thorough response @yssie. I've never seen phones in pearl pics but I have seen overhead lamps, neighboring pearls, and random worktable objects. Basically a bunch of things to indicate that it wasn't a proper lighting setup. I gave up and will reconsider buying studs only when I can afford the best.

I never had any illusions about color reproduction online. Everything is always the wrong color, and I especially love it when the vendor's yellow or bright pink hands are in the shot to prove it.
 

yssie

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Thanks for the thorough response @yssie. I've never seen phones in pearl pics but I have seen overhead lamps, neighboring pearls, and random worktable objects. Basically a bunch of things to indicate that it wasn't a proper lighting setup. I gave up and will reconsider buying studs only when I can afford the best.

I never had any illusions about color reproduction online. Everything is always the wrong color, and I especially love it when the vendor's yellow or bright pink hands are in the shot to prove it.

Finger colour, also a giveaway that perhaps lighting is not neutral :bigsmile:

Some quick pics of phones reflecting in pearls from IG. No judgments on these vendors, if any PSers recognize them - I have and will continue to buy from all. These pics are strictly for examples.

72DF8592-0B47-4100-9BAD-A133449F2A6C.jpeg
7B15D36A-1B88-4263-A63B-ABAC3E52EB38.jpeg
70905BEC-639A-4380-8295-65EA6BAE6BD1.jpeg
891CA589-C725-4B42-BE37-A8DAC7CAB26C.jpeg
4E9C52D6-47D8-42D5-9296-DB30B7430515.jpeg
 
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MrsBlue

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Phones, fingers, and neighboring pearls, oh my!

At least there's a reasonable expectation of luster when phones and fingers are clearly discernible.
 

katbran

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Well.... I use a phone for my photos so I guess I know where I stand. :lol-2:

My photos are meant to be a close approximation of what I see . I don't concern myself too much as I don't sell directly from a link or website. Anyone who is interested gets photos from every angle , time of day and light source. Many excellent sellers that I know use phones and I feel their photos are quite accurate. They too will provide additional photos .

There are many people out there who use a camera, have all the bells and whistles and a proper web site and take terrible photos . Often the colour is adjusted to show the most ridiculous unrealistic depth of tone/tint / whatever.

So I will agree that one should always request additional photos to show the pearls in 'real life' lighting conditions. But I don't agree that phones photos are an issue. But it's just my opinion. I've looked at probably hundreds of thousands of pearls in real life so I have a pretty good idea of what to expect from most any photo.

As for returns, some countries do not allow for the return of earrings as it's considered to be a health and safety issue, so returning earrings is illegal. We all know that a swipe with an alcohol tissue isn't sufficient anyways. And if you choose to buy strands from a wholesaler..then like all of us .. you take your chances. Goodness knows their photos are generally dreadful lol
 

yssie

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@katbran You’re right - I conflated two issues into one.

Some vendors do have fancy cameras and no clue how to use them. That also drives me bonkers ;(What I really want is vendors to show their pearls as realistically as possible across multiple lighting environments. Especially critical for non-returnable purchases, but I want that for refundable purchases too. For some vendors that might mean the camera alone is good enough. For some vendors that’ll mean camera + image processing. If a vendor wants to do some combo of phone cam + image processing - great, but I’ve not met anyone who makes a habit of this. Phones, what makes them fantastic for quick family and puppy pics is also what makes them terrible for judging nuances of colour and tone. What’s worse, every model out there has hugely varying colourscience - you know that the phone is doing something but you have no idea what :???:

There’s also a question of price... I don’t expect a vendor to take as much time and effort to document a $200 item as a $2000 item. For $200 - I’m willing to take the chance. For $2000 - I’m willing to take the chance if returns are free, but if they aren’t, without awesome photos it’s not for me. Free returns - so expensive for vendors, especially small vendors. I will happily buy from vendors who charge for returns, whether that’s shipping or a restocking fee. I’ll also happily buy from vendors who say “I’m going to have to charge a fee for extra photos/video beyond what I normally provide”. Time isn’t free.


I didn’t know that returning earrings wasn’t done in some countries! I assume Australia is one of them. I’m glad the US is not!
 
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lissyflo

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@katbran What’s worse, every model out there has hugely varying colourscience - you know that the phone is doing something but you have no idea what :???:
I have nothing remotely sensible to add to the discussion, but this made me chortle - I’m a Luddite and this pretty much summarises my understanding of all technology! I need you to give both pearl and IT tutorials...

(ETA: the U.K. is another country where earrings are unreturnable. I’m pretty sure the skin surrounding my 30 year old piercings is tough as old boots, so I think it’s corporate rather than consumer protection.)
 

molinePDG

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In general, comparing colors of anything online is pointless. Model of computer/screen, calibration of monitor, brand of monitor, brightness of monitor, environmental lighting, environmental brightness, time of day, tiredness of your eyes, sharpness of your own color perception, your own eyes' ability to work in the environment, and even more things that I don't have off the top of my head will all contribute to how you perceive (or display) color.

It's why it's important to have someone who can describe any sort of goods in a fair way to you, and also why it's important to know what you're looking to get out of any particular purchase -- as I post often in the pearl section, whether that's a priority of luster, color, value, shape, etc.

Personally -- can't speak for any other vendors or sellers of pearls -- I have found that the closeness of a phone picture showing the outline of fingers/phones is a useful way to help answer the question "How can I judge/look at luster through a photo?" - and I often tell folks to take a look at close objects (like edges of fingers or phone outlines) seen reflected in a pearl as a way of educating on one of the quality factors. Besides, and again, maybe just for me, whenever I've posted any kind of "real camera photo" on any of my platforms, the first question I get is "can I get a closer-up phone picture?" :lol:

Yssie knows - as she and I rant often - that much of this boils down to lack of standard grading in the pearl industry. If there were a good certificate from The Honest Pearl Lab that let you easily buy a Fancy Vivid Cherry, VVS2 Perfect Round 12mm Tahitian Pearl, all of this would be a non-endeavor. Lots of vendors might like this too, because it's often hard to explain easily why a pearl with a certain overtone or other quality factor (say, a little bit of cream vs white-silver-pink) is a huge price differential, sometimes with a lot, lot of difference.

I don't think that any sort of grading system like that will happen in my lifetime, because having such a thing would really hurt some big pearl names that have a lot of control over the industry, but hope springs eternal, y'know?
 
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yssie

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In general, comparing colors of anything online is pointless. Model of computer/screen, calibration of monitor, brand of monitor, brightness of monitor, environmental lighting, environmental brightness, time of day, tiredness of your eyes, sharpness of your own color perception, your own eyes' ability to work in the environment, and even more things that I don't have off the top of my head will all contribute to how you perceive (or display) color.
Agree that seeing in person is always best. But from the consumer side - without free returns that becomes very pricey very quickly! I think everyone here, at least, would agree that the goal is “as realistic as possible”.

It's why it's important to have someone who can describe any sort of goods in a fair way to you, and also why it's important to know what you're looking to get out of any particular purchase -- as I post often in the pearl section, whether that's a priority of luster, color, value, shape, etc.
100%!! This is the nutshell value add of working with a vendor rather than buying direct from a supplier!!

Personally -- can't speak for any other vendors or sellers of pearls -- I have found that the closeness of a phone picture showing the outline of fingers/phones is a useful way to help answer the question "How can I judge/look at luster through a photo?" - and I often tell folks to take a look at close objects (like edges of fingers or phone outlines) seen reflected in a pearl as a way of educating on one of the quality factors. Besides, and again, maybe just for me, whenever I've posted any kind of "real camera photo" on any of my platforms, the first question I get is "can I get a closer-up phone picture?" :lol:
I would disagree with this - any point and shoot will be able to take more detailed photos from 2” away than any phone out there can manage from any distance, and that camera pic can be cropped to focus on just a small portion if desired, and that cropped pic will still be higher-res than out of a phone. But agreed on what to judge by - fingers, fingernails, nose, eyebrows, fair game ::)

But this really highlights the point that no single photo is trustworthy and you really do need pictures from different angles in different lighting conditions... If I crop just the tops of the pearls in Shadow#4, one could easily presume that the right pearl (no post) has superior luster, but the other three photos pretty definitely prove otherwise.
3E59E521-B096-4F4B-8A56-E98A1A6387A5.jpeg A63975D9-4F5C-49ED-BBA4-D8FC75C8A262.jpeg

Yssie knows - as she and I rant often - that much of this boils down to lack of standard grading in the pearl industry. If there were a good certificate from The Honest Pearl Lab that let you easily buy a Fancy Vivid Cherry, VVS2 Perfect Round 12mm Tahitian Pearl, all of this would be a non-endeavor. Lots of vendors might like this too, because it's often hard to explain easily why a pearl with a certain overtime (say, a little bit of cream vs white-silver-pink) is a huge price differential, sometimes with a lot, lot of difference.

I don't think that any sort of grading system like that will happen in my lifetime, because having such a thing would really hurt some big pearl names that have a lot of control over the industry, but hope springs eternal, y'know?
I share your hope!! We’re both doomed :lol:
 
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molinePDG

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But this really highlights the point that no single photo is trustworthy and you really do need pictures from different angles in different lighting conditions... If I crop just the tops of the pearls in Shadow#4, one could easily presume that the right pearl (no post) has superior luster, but the other three photos pretty definitely prove otherwise.
[photos]

I think the resounding moral of the story is very similar to the Rocky Talky folks -- like diamonds and HCA, AGS, GIA 3x, etc. etc. -- there is no one easily-used number or tool to use that definitively declares "best."

Also as a general PSA to those who look at akoya in this type of shadow lighting, if you ever come across it, there is blue tone easily visible in the pearl with the post, which is an almost-universal indicator of a high quality akoya pearl.

That's absolutely not a "if it doesn't have it, it's no good" moniker, but it is a good indicator that you MAY have a nice one on hand.

Also, if you ever come across any pearl sellers using photos cropped to that extent in a general product shot, you should definitely assume there is something fishy going on. :bigsmile:
 

yssie

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This thread makes me happy. Just gotta say that. Thanks to everyone here for participating ::)
 

Pearlescence

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@katbran You’re right - I conflated two issues into one.

Some vendors do have fancy cameras and no clue how to use them. That also drives me bonkers ;(What I really want is vendors to show their pearls as realistically as possible across multiple lighting environments. Especially critical for non-returnable purchases, but I want that for refundable purchases too. For some vendors that might mean the camera alone is good enough. For some vendors that’ll mean camera + image processing. If a vendor wants to do some combo of phone cam + image processing - great, but I’ve not met anyone who makes a habit of this. Phones, what makes them fantastic for quick family and puppy pics is also what makes them terrible for judging nuances of colour and tone. What’s worse, every model out there has hugely varying colourscience - you know that the phone is doing something but you have no idea what :???:

There’s also a question of price... I don’t expect a vendor to take as much time and effort to document a $200 item as a $2000 item. For $200 - I’m willing to take the chance. For $2000 - I’m willing to take the chance if returns are free, but if they aren’t, without awesome photos it’s not for me. Free returns - so expensive for vendors, especially small vendors. I will happily buy from vendors who charge for returns, whether that’s shipping or a restocking fee. I’ll also happily buy from vendors who say “I’m going to have to charge a fee for extra photos/video beyond what I normally provide”. Time isn’t free.


I didn’t know that returning earrings wasn’t done in some countries! I assume Australia is one of them. I’m glad the US is not!

In the EU (and the UK) the law allows for non-returnablity of earrings bought remotely. Some companies seal the earrings into packaging so you can view but not put on. Then they can be returned
I mean- would you like the thought of receiving previously tried on knickers? euch
 

elizat

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In the EU (and the UK) the law allows for non-returnablity of earrings bought remotely. Some companies seal the earrings into packaging so you can view but not put on. Then they can be returned
I mean- would you like the thought of receiving previously tried on knickers? euch

I would just wash them. I assume everything has been tried on before and wash everything before wear. I guess that doesn't gross me out. There are worse things in life!
 

yssie

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Is return of items like china and flatware also disallowed? My sterling is vintage, so it’s been inside who knows how many mouths, now that I think about it...
 

Pearlescence

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Really? Well, seems standards are fussier over here.
And, by the way, calling silver of a certain standard sterling is a reference to very early UK consumer law, dating back to 1238 when precious metals/coins started to be assayed for quality by the Goldsmith's guild (which still does the work now) Any precious metal I sell above a certain weight must go to Goldsmith's hall where my sponsor mark is registered to be assayed and stamped as up to the mark.
I understand that in the USA anyone can put a stamp claiming anything on any item purporting to be of a standard.
Having to send stuff away to be marked is a delay and a pain and an expensive (my sponsor mark is my initials in an oval cartouche) but being part of something which has been strict consumer protection for many centuries...priceless.
UK still issues precious metal coinage which is still assayed every year, by the way, at the Trial of the Pyx. My friend polishes the gold coins which are submitted by the Royal Mint for inspection and assay (the security guards get in the way!).
More details on hallmarking (and by the way a manufacturer stamp is not a hallmark, it's only a hallmark if it has been to an assay office and checked and stamped ie marked in Goldsmith's hall)
 
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