I often have customers wondering why one pair of earrings is a different price to another. Size is a factor when creating a finished product however many customers don’t realise that pearls are not graded simply on size alone.
Looking at pearl jewellery from many shops can be a daunting task. There is no standard grading system for freshwater pearls and so sellers have created their own systems. I find it difficult to use these systems when selling my jewellery as it can often be very confusing to customers when comparing with other products on the market.
Therefore I have added the following information to help you understand how pearls are graded and why that affects the price you pay.
Understanding cultured freshwater pearls
Due to the organic and unpredictable nature of farming pearls, pearls are graded after they are harvested and they are graded on five characteristics. New farming techniques are being created all the time and the variety of pearls that are on the market is increasing and improving all the time.
Pearls are graded based on 5 different characteristics
Each characteristic is then broken down further and that grading then affects the value of that pearl
Although size plays a huge part in the value of the pearl size doesn’t always mean more expensive, all other aspects of the pearl contribute the final value of the pearl. When buying pearls that are on a strand, they are usually graded based on width. Sometimes I prioritise size before these other characteristics in order to use the size that works well in a design.
The most desirable shape of pearls is perfectly round. Listed below are the shapes from most expensive to least expensive.
· Round – perfect sphere
· Near round – no perfect sphere but close
· Drop/oval – perfect oval or teardrop shapes
· High button – high half sphere typically with a flat base
· Baroque – free shape
· Button – shallow half sphere typically with flat base
· Circle – any shape but with concentric circular grooves around the pearl
Freshwater pearls come in many different natural colours, including
Other colours can be achieved by dying the pearls; dyed pearls are usually ones where the natural colour is not optimal, but the other characteristics of the pearl are good. When creating listings for my coloured pearls I usually indicate if they are dyed, however sometimes I am not sure if the colour is natural or not, I don’t write anything regarding the colour, however I will always write if the colour is natural, as in those cases I am absolutely sure.
This describes the reflectiveness of the surface of the pearl, in my opinion this is what makes pearls so beautiful. The more crisp, bright or sharp the reflection the more valuable the pearl, lower value pearls are more dim, weak or blurred. Below is the grading for lustre from most valuable to least valuable.
Poor lustre is just not worth it! Sometimes I will accept average lustre in order to achieve the design, price point or size that I want, however I usually aim for a good lustre. Brilliant and Excellent represent the best quality pearls on the market and you pay accordingly for these.
Pearls are graded based on the blemishes on the surface of the pearl, in the nachre. A perfect pearl with no blemishes is extremely valuable and those with many and sometimes unsightly blemishes are of lower value. The pearls I select tend to be somewhere in between.
Types of blemishes found on freshwater pearls
Dents and divots
Knobs and tips
How much of the pearl that is covered with blemishes also affects its value.
· 1-4 minor blemishes
· 75% clean
· one clean face
· no clean face
Surface blemishes are part of the appeal of Baroque pearls - these pearls have many blemishes including ridges, dents, divots, wrinkles, and lovely knobs and tips, overall the surface is what people love about baroque freshwater pearls.
When I select pearls, sometimes pearls are already sold as matched pairs. The more expensive the pearls based on the above criteria, the more expensive it is to get a matched pair. When purchasing baroque pearls I prefer to match pairs myself rather than buy them already matched. Please see below for my method so you can get a gauge for what I look for.
When selecting pairs of pearls for my earrings I use a combination of these characteristics to create pairs. Pairs are only created from strands that have been sorted and graded before I buy them so lustre is usually taken into account already before I begin. I start by sorting the pearls into sizes and then start comparing shapes. Where possible after matching based on these first two criteria I match the colours (which is usually pretty close but the value of the pearl will affect how close they are) and finally surface blemishes is the last consideration when matching.
As you can see from all of the above information, there are many things which affect that price of pearl jewellery. Sometimes the popularity of a certain type of pearl, and supply and demand can affect prices. A lot of time is spent sourcing pearls from a great variety of suppliers and time spent matching up pairs for my earrings. This doesn’t even take into account that all the silver-work is completed by hand.