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How To Buy Pearls And Pearl Jewelry

lady with pearls

Pearls are a fascinating gem for several reasons—they’re the only gem that comes from a living being, and they’re the oldest gem known to mankind. In 2019, the world’s oldest natural pearl (8,000 years old) was discovered on an island off Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Archeological site findings show that the pearl trade existed from at least as far back as the Neolithic period, 12,000 years ago!

It’s no wonder why humans have been fascinated by pearls since the dawn of civilization—their rare and fascinating creation, their subtle luster and unique optical effects, and their aesthetic spherical shape make them irresistible to look at.

Sleek, sophisticated, and timelessly elegant—pearl jewelry is a must-have for anyone with refined tastes in style and luxury. To provide tips on how to buy pearl jewelry, we’ve put together an informative pearl buying guide for choosing the best pearl jewelry for your budget and personal style.

Some jewelry styles die out—you don’t see young people wearing their grandmother’s brooches very often. Some people might think pearls are old-fashioned, but chances are, they’re not really familiar with the world of fine jewelry and haute couture.

For some people, pearl jewelry conjures up images of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Princess Diana, or Jackie Kennedy. But did you know that Usher, Harry Styles, Rhianna, Angelina Jolie, and A$AP Rocky also wear pearl jewelry?

From the ancient Mesopotamians to Jaden Smith, pearls are a hit fashion statement. They have an elegant sheen to them, quality texture, gorgeous color palette, and endless combinations as a style accessory. The look of pearls is simply unbeatable. Oysters are basically the Harry Winston of the animal kingdom.

Interesting Facts about Pearls

How are pearls made? Where do pearls come from? What’s the difference between natural pearls and cultured pearls? What’s the difference between freshwater pearls and saltwater pearls?

Since pearls are so cool, let’s learn a little bit more about them (for the next week’s bar trivia, or your Jeopardy application).

How Pearls Are Made

how pearls are made

When a mommy pearl and a daddy pearl like each other—never mind; the real story of how natural pearls form is a pretty fascinating occurrence. Contrary to popular belief, pearls rarely form from a grain of sand entering the pearl.

Pearls form when a parasite or some type of irritant enters a bivalve mollusk’s soft mantle. Once that parasite enters the soft mantle, the mollusk will cover the parasite in a sac and form layers of nacre around it.

Nacre is essentially a smooth, shiny substance that covers the inner shell of the mollusk. Nacre makes up mother of pearl. Over time, those layers around the parasite will turn into a pearl. Today, it’s very hard to find natural pearls. A very small percentage of mollusks actually form pearls, but those that do, need a good amount of time to do so. Meaning that the thicker the nacre, the more valuable the pearl will be.

The process that begins the pearl formation is essentially an immune response from the oyster (similar to when humans produce white blood cells in response to an antigen). This is why pearls rarely form from sand—oysters are frequently exposed to sand, so it’s unlikely to trigger their immune response.

Cultured Pearls vs. Natural Pearls

Most pearls come from a pearl farm. They still form inside a bivalve mollusk (an oyster or mussel), but humans help the process.Natural pearls have a statistically low chance of forming. You have a 1 in 10,000 chance of finding a pearl in an oyster in the wild, and the odds of finding a natural jewelry-grade pearl are even slimmer. 

To produce more pearls, people create pearl farms that host oysters they can access. Pearl farm experts manually insert the parasite (or irritant) into the mollusk. This process allows for an increase in pearl production and has made pearls more cost-effective for consumers.

Natural pearls are still in the money-making business, but the process is so delicately time-consuming that it can cost a buyer quite a bit of money, making cultured pearls a more affordable route to take when buying pearls. You still get the beauty and elegance, just at a lower price.

Are Pearl Farms Ethical?

Some people wonder if they shouldn’t buy pearls that came from pearl farms. The answer to whether or not they were ethically produced depends on the methods of the pearl farmers. Buying from an established, reputable store is important to avoid buying pearls from low-quality pearl farms.

A good pearl farm will have adequate space for the oysters to keep them happy and free of disease. They will take great care when inserting the irritant carefully into the oyster. This process is also eco-friendly. Unethical pearl farms may overcrowd their oysters in an unsuitable space, causing poor water quality that contributes to mollusk disease and deaths. They might not be as careful when inserting the irritant.

There are different types of oyster farms that use different methods to harvest pearls from the mollusks.

Freshwater Pearls vs. Saltwater Pearls

There are different types of pearls used in jewelry. Freshwater pearls come from mussels, and saltwater pearls come from oysters. Imitation pearls are man-made from glass, plastic, or ceramic.

Freshwater Pearls

Mollusks can form pearls in freshwater. Some examples of freshwater include ponds, rivers, and lakes. Freshwater pearls can be cultured too. The way that process works is, a piece of the mollusks own mantle will be inserted into its flesh. Mussels are typically the mollusks that form freshwater pearls.

Saltwater Pearls

Saltwater pearls are produced by saltwater mollusks. The type of saltwater mollusk is primarily pearl oyster. Natural saltwater pearls resemble natural freshwater pearls in shape and color, but when a saltwater pearl is cultured, there is a visible slight difference. Cultured saltwater pearls have been said to appear to have more of a perfectly spherical shape to them... maybe that particular beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

How to Choose Pearl Jewelry

When deciding how to buy pearls, you want to consider several factors. Here are some questions about pearls you might want to ask yourself before looking at pearl jewelry to add to your collection:

  • What kind of pearl jewelry do you want? First, you want to have a good idea of what pearl jewelry you’re looking for. Does a simple pearl necklace suit you? Do you want a pearl necklace with matching pearl earrings? Perhaps a pearl bracelet or a pearl ring is more up your alley.
  • What metal do you want your pearl jewelry to be made of? Ideally, choose a precious metal for pearl jewelry (gold, silver, or platinum) - it’s easier to reshape, resize, and repair, assuring optimum security for your pearls. 
  • What types of pearls suit your style? Picture the size, color hue, and appearance of pearls that would best match your style and personality.
  • Traditional look or modern? Do you picture yourself in a traditional pearl string necklace, or do you want a designer pearl necklace with a modern flair?
  • What’s your budget? You’ll find that pearl jewelry comes in a range of prices. Set your budget and shop within those limits to help save time. On our website, we have a filter you can apply to search for pearl jewelry by price.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, consider the individual qualities of the pearls you’re looking at. Here are six different categories for a pearl jewelry buying guide that should factor into your decision:

Shape

The ideal shape for a pearl is a symmetrical round shape. This is the most valuable pearl shape and the most expensive. After perfectly round pearls, the next best shapes for pearls are perfectly symmetrical semi-baroque shapes (such as tear-drops and ovals). The third best pearl shapes in terms of value are circled baroque. The last shape category for jewelry-quality pearls is free-form baroque pearls, which are totally asymmetrical.

Size

The larger the pearl, the more valuable it is. Large, perfectly round pearls are rare and highly valued. A teardrop is a common shape for pearl pendants, and buying large pearls in shapes other than perfectly round is a more cost-effective way to buy larger pearls in your jewelry.

Color

Pearls come in every color of the rainbow. How pearls get their color depends on the mollusk’s shell, pigments in the mollusk’s nacre, and environmental factors of the mollusk’s origins.

Surface

Pearls with a smooth surface are the most desirable. Pearls with small inclusions are more affordable, and the inclusions may not be too noticeable. Pearls with uneven surfaces and multiple inclusions are the least valuable and are often the cheapest.

Luster

Among all other attributes, luster is the most important differentiator of pearl quality, according to jewelers. A pearl’s luster is what makes it so glamorous as an accessory.

Luster refers to the way that light reflects off the pearl. A pearl’s luster can be ranked according to the following:

  1. Sharp and highly reflective
  2. Soft and blurry
  3. Dull and minimally reflective

The sharper and more reflective the pearl’s luster, the more valuable it is.

Combination of Qualities

The value of the pearls in jewelry is determined by a combination of the luster, color, size, lack of surface flaw, and symmetry that are appropriate for the type of pearl under consideration. This varies depending on if it’s a natural pearl or cultured, and where the pearl’s origins are. Additionally, the quality of the overall elements in the jewelry (craftsmanship, purity of gold, real sterling silver, design elements, designer or brand, etc) plays a huge role in the price of pearl jewelry.

Pearl Jewelry Buying Tips

Finally, here are some final tips in our pearl jewelry buying guide to help you figure out where to buy pearl jewelry, what pearl jewelry to choose, and how to make the most of your pearls.

  1. Choose a reputable seller that responds to questions with complete transparency.
  2. Ask questions before buying pearl jewelry to make sure you’re getting the real deal, and that the seller is knowledgeable about pearls, fine jewelry, gold, and silver.
  3. Get insurance for your pearl jewelry, or other fine jewelry to cover damage, loss, and theft. What’s the point of pearl earrings once you lose your pearl?
  4. Choose precious metals in your pearl jewelry. Gold pearl jewelry and sterling silver pearl jewelry is easier to repair and keep your pearl secured.
  5. Look for unique designs this is a good way to choose pearl jewelry that suits your personality and stands out from lesser-quality jewelry.

Chemicals in any form can severely damage the luster and beauty of a pearl so be careful when going for manicures and other chemical-involving beauty treatments. ItsHot.com has taken the initiative to educate customers about how to handle the precious and delicate pearl. Let’s take a look at how to clean and maintain your beautiful pearls:

Cleaning Your Pearls

  • Every time you wear your pearls, be sure to wipe them off with a soft cloth. This will help prevent buildup or accumulation of different substances you may have come in contact with during the day. Buildup include oils, makeup, perfumes or body sprays.
  • Clean your pearls with a damp cloth. You do not want to soak your pearls in warm water because this will cause the thread holding your pearls together to weaken. All you need to do is make a mixture of warm water and dish soap, dip a soft cloth in the water mixture, and wipe the pearls clean.
  • Be sure you allow proper time for your pearls to dry before putting them back up. This allows the silk thread holding the pearls, to return back to it’s full elasticity.

Maintaining Your Pearls

  • Make sure your pearls have a storage area all of their own. Pearls are one of those delicate gems, and are so prone to scratches that you want to make sure they are protected. So if at all possible, store them in a safe place away from other pieces of jewelry.
  • While we’re on the topic of storing your pearls, make sure you store them somewhere that they can lay flat. Storing them flat prevents your pearl necklace or bracelet from stretching. Yes there’s the jewelry rack that you can use to hang necklaces and bracelets on, (and there is nothing wrong with those) but using those, with pearls, can eventually stretch your jewelry, so that’s just something for you to think about.
  • Try making your pearls the last thing you put on. If you think about it, jewelry typically is the last thing most people put on when getting dressed...it’s what completes your look.
  • In that same breathe, let taking off your pearls be the first thing you take off upon coming home and changing clothes. For instance, let’s say you’re wearing pearl earrings, and have on a dress that you have to pull off over your head. You’re less likely to pull or tear a thread in the lining of the dress with the backs of your earrings, if you take your earrings off before taking off your dress.
  • Wear your pearls. Yes it’s that simple. Did you know that your pearls can get dry? Well they can. Wearing your pearls allows the oils from your body to keep them moisturized.
  • Lastly, take your pearls to a jeweler at least once a year. This allows your jeweler to look at them, clean them if they need to, and make any repairs if needed.

How to Wear Pearls

Now that you know the life story of the pearl and how to clean and maintain them, let’s explore how you can wear these gems in your everyday life.

Work

For pearls in the office, simple is best. A simple one strand of pearls will add class and sophistication to your look. A pearl necklace that sits above the neckline would be ideal. The great thing about pearls is that they go with anything you wear. Whether you’re wearing a suit, dress, or skirt, a pearl necklace or pearl earring will pair nicely with it.

Special Engagements

There’s just something about pearls that give you an aura of class, and this aura that it gives off is perfect for special occasions. For this type of event, you can go for a more dramatic look by wearing dramatic pearls. Every woman knows about the little black dress, and should have at least one in their closet for special occasions. A little black dress paired with dramatic pearls will surely make you stand out from the rest.

Casual

Did you know that pearls can make just as big a fashion statement for work and evening wear as it can for casual wear? Well it definitely can! Pearls can be worn with jeans and blouses as well as cute and simple dresses. Wearing pearls with your casual clothes gives it a fun twist, yet you still have the class and sophistication. These reasons alone are proof as to why pearls are “the prettiest of all gemstones.”

We offer a 30-day money-back guarantee return policy and a 1-year warranty. We sell authentic gold, silver, and platinum jewelry with real diamonds and pearls. If you have any questions about pearl jewelry or custom jewelry, contact us.

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