When I was a child, I used to love playing dress-up with my mother’s pearls; I always thought they looked so pretty. But, on one occasion, I recall she sat me down and taught me two important facts about these ocean gems that really made me appreciate their beauty.
One: that pearls are like people – they have to be kept close to the skin or else they lose their lustre.
And two: that pearls are not simply purchased, but chosen.
Years later, when I came to buy my first pearl necklace, I remembered what my mother had told me, and decided to delve deeper into her advice and find out more. So, in short for you, here are the eight things anyone intending to buy pearls should keep in mind.
Why? Pearls have too many connotations to be bought without a reason. They are a symbol of modesty, purity and chastity. Over the years, pearls were never the emblems of an independent woman, until Coco Chanel came alone and completely altered that perception. Traditionally, 12th and 30th wedding anniversaries are symbolised by pearls, and it is also the birthstone for the month of June.
Knowledge. Before you hit the stores and splurge out, make sure you know the basics. If you’re going for a necklace, for example, make sure you know the difference between ‘a bib’, ‘a princess’ and ‘a matinee’. Nothing spells out nouveau riche more than wearing the wrong style for an occasion.
A Tale of Two Pearls: There are two kinds of pearls: the Cultivated (sourced from freshwater) and Natural (sourced from salt-water). Although they look quite similar, their derivation will also make a big difference to the price and lustre.
The Eight Shapes: Drop, pear, oval, round, semi-round, circles, button and baroque. Perfectly round pearls are the rarest and as thus the most valuable; drop or pear (also referred to as tear-drop pearls) are the favourites for earrings, pendants, or as the central pearl for necklaces and tiaras. Baroque ones, although misshapen, have an allure in their uniqueness.
Colour: A pearl’s lustre depends upon the light being bounced from its translucent layers, while the quality of its lustre comes from the fineness of those layers. Pearls have a colouring effect called ‘orient’, which refers to any iridescent colours that swirl, move or glitter as the light changes. Freshwater pearls can be dyed any colour, even in multiple hues. But in general, a natural lustre is considered to be the most valuable.
The Grading Systems: Like everything else in this day and age, there are ways and means in which to determine the quality, lustre and surface of a pearl. The AAA-A System and the A-D System (sometimes also referred to as the Tahitian System) are the two that are most used. Under the AAA-A System a True AAA pearl – which is the best grading – has ‘mirror-like reflection’ and a ‘blemish-free surface’, and will result in the pearl being more valuable, both to purchase and own.
Size: I was never an advocate of the size-matters movement, but when it comes to pearls, size does matter! A pearl’s size is measured through its diameter in millimeters. The weight of a natural pearl is expressed in carats or grains; while freshwater ones are weighed in kilograms, kan or momme. The obvious thing is that the bigger the pearl, the most expensive it’ll be; however a 6-7mm pearl is luxurious without being ridiculously expensive.
Adopt: Once you know how to choose the right pearls, you can adopt them and take care of them. The beauty of pearls is that they are alive, and as thus require care, nurture and love. They are beautiful things to be seen in and to know you own.
Do you have any more tips for anyone considering buying pearls? Let us know!