Wondering how to buy pearl jewelry online? Learn everything you need to know to make an informed decision about pearl jewelry in this guide.
If diamonds are forever, pearls are timeless!
Pearls remain one of the most popular and meaningful gifts. And why not! Pearls are unique, elegant, classic, and always sophisticated. The finest quality of natural pearls has been highly valued as gemstones and for their beauty for many centuries now.
Did you know that pearls are also the traditional birthstone for people born in June?
Pearls are formed in two ways :
- Natural way (without human intervention)
- Cultured way (farmed by pearl farmers)
Natural pearls are formed within the soft tissue of living shelled mollusks (such as oyster, mussel, or abalone).
Pearls are formed when an irritant, such as a piece of sand, bone, scale, or even a parasite, becomes lodged in the shell of a mollusk. Sensing a foreign element, the mollusk activates its defense mechanism and forms a nucleus over the foreign element, and continues to coat it with layers of a secretion called “nacre” over a long period resulting in the formation of a gorgeous natural pearl.
An amusing thing to note here is the factors that determine the size, color, and shape of the pearl have to do with the size and shape of the nucleus. And, it takes years for a fair-sized pearl to form, and perfectly round shaped pearls are extremely rare.
A cultured pearl is also a real pearl. They are farmed by pearl farmers under controlled conditions. Here, the foreign object or element is manually introduced in the mollusk, unlike natural pearls.
Today, almost any of the pearl that you will find in the market is a cultured pearl for the following reasons:
- Natural pearls are extremely rare which makes them exorbitantly expensive.
- Only one in approximately 10,000 oysters will ever produce a pearl naturally. And out of that, a very small percentage would yield a gem that is the right shape, size, and desired color.
- Moreover, the majority of natural beds of pearl-producing mollusks have been depleted due to over-harvesting in the past leading to efforts made to grow pearls artificially.
The main and significant difference between natural and cultured pearls is in the thickness of the nacre. (Nacre is the outer shell that holds the color and luster of the pearl.)
Now, to produce pearls more quickly, cultured pearls are usually implanted with a larger nucleus than those which would begin the formation of a natural pearl. (Even with the larger nucleus, it still takes two to three years to grow a fine pearl.)
Type of Cultured Pearls
There are four major types of cultured whole pearls – Freshwater, Akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian. They differ in color, size, and shape based on the type of mollusk, the growing conditions, harvesting techniques, and many other factors.
Freshwater pearls are cultivated in farms located in freshwater rivers, lakes, or ponds. The process of cultivation of freshwater pearls is majorly done manually. China and the U.S. are the leading producers of cultured freshwater pearls.
Freshwater pearls come in a broad variety of colors. Many pearls are bleached to produce white coloration, or dyed to mimic the gray or golden hues of other pearls. Because pearls are so porous, dyes are absorbed deep into the pearl and are relatively permanent. Dyeing of pearls has become widely accepted and dyed pearls achieve a rich depth of color that generally can't be found in nature.
Choose Freshwater pearls if:
- You want everyday pearl jewelry
- Slightly off-round shapes and a softer glow is ok for you
- You are looking for a lower price point
- Your budget is below $350
Akoya pearls are produced by a type of oyster in the cooler salt waters of Japan and China. Akoya pearls were the first variety of pearl to be cultured, with the Mikimoto pearl company first farming these pearls in the early 1900s.
Akoya pearls are prized for their prismatic luster and slight pinkish hue. When shopping for Akoya pearl jewelry, one should look for a bright luster and a blemish‐free surface. Akoya pearl jewelry tends to be a bit more expensive than other pearls because the oyster can only be cultivated once. However, the pearls the oysters provide are among the strongest and most beautiful – and they will provide years of wear with proper care.
Choose Akoya pearls if:
- You want perfectly round pearls
- You want elegant, high-end pearls
- Excellent luster is important to you
- Your budget is $350 and up
South Sea Pearls
South Sea pearls are cultured in saltwater oysters and are majorly cultured in western Australia and Indonesia. South Sea pearls are often white but occasionally are produced with a golden‐yellow hue. These pearls are then marketed as 'golden pearls' and may command a higher price. Other colors are occasionally found but are much rarer.
Choose South Sea pearls if:
- You love glamorous pearls that offer unmistakable presence
- You enjoy iridescence and lustrous glow
- You want bigger sized pearls
- Your budget is $400 and up
Tahitian pearls are also referred to as ‘black pearls’. They are farmed in the black lip oyster in the warm salt waters around the islands of French Polynesia, near Tahiti. Cultured Tahitian pearls are available in a wide variety of shapes and colors. While most are black or white, many Tahitian pearls contain various undertones and overtones of green, pink, blue, silver, and yellow. The intensity of these colors has a strong effect on their worth, with deeper, more evenly colored pearls considered the rarest and valuable. Tahitian pearls that exhibit a variety of hues are called "peacock pearls" and are among the most treasured.
Choose Tahitian pearls if:
- You like elegance and luxury with a twist of exotic
- You love the rainbow color of Tahitian pearls
- Your budget is $200 and up
- You want something more unique than the classic white pearl
Table Comparison of four types of cultured pearls
Type of Pearl
2mm – 18mm
5mm – 11mm
9mm – 18mm
9mm – 16mm
Widest range of natural colors, ranging from white to pink to lavender as well as a multitude of color-dyed options.
These are classic white pearls, with overtones of rose, silver, and cream. Akoya pearls may also be treated to achieve a black body color.
Ranging from silky silver to deep golden tones. Dark golden South Sea pearls are considered the rarest and valuable.
Tahitian pearls are the only pearls to have a natural black body color, however, they can range from dark greens to light silver.
Round, near-round, button, and baroque.
Round, near round, and baroque.
Round, near round, and baroque.
$69 - $1,500
$399 - $30,000
$120 - $10,000
How to Choose the Right Pearl?
The most common work color of pearls is white or off-white, however cream, yellow, pink, silver, and black are also popular. Pearls can also have a hint of secondary color, or overtone, which is seen when light reflects off the pearl surface. For example, a pearl strand may appear white, but when examined more closely, a pink overtone may become apparent.
Pearls can also be dyed almost any color of the rainbow. Rich greens, blues, reds, and other colors make traditional pearl jewelry seem more modern and trendier.
One of the most special characteristics of pearls is the way they can reflect light. A high-quality pearl will seem as though it’s being illuminated from within, making it possible to see your reflection. Pearls produce a deep, intense shine referred to as luster. Luster is the sharpness and intensity of reflections on the pearl's surface. Luster measures the rate of reflection on a pearl’s surface, and the amount of light reflected on the pearl.
Not only does pearl luster quality affect the look of a pearl, but it also has a significant influence on its value.
Round is traditionally the most favored shape, however off-round pearls, button-shaped pearls, drop-shape pearls, baroque, circle baroque and free-form baroque pearls are also gaining a lot of popularity nowadays.
The size of the pearls used in any piece of jewelry is important for both beauty and budgeting. Larger pearls are usually preferred for strands or necklaces, however, they may be less desirable for earrings since they can often divert attention away from the wearer. Also, larger pearls in pearl rings look attractive but are mostly bulky and uncomfortable to wear.
The conclusion is that the larger the pearl, the greater the cost. Therefore, the size of the pearl can be adjusted basis one’s budget.
Generally the most popular sizes are within the 7.0-9.5mm range, which are considered the most traditional and versatile pearl sizes to buy.
During the formation of a pearl, the layers of nacre don't always adhere smoothly and spots and bubbles can occur. The fewer the spots, discolorations, cracks, or blemishes, the more expensive the pearl.
Pearls with the smoothest surfaces are the highest in quality.
Unlike diamond grading, there is no standardized grading system for pearls. Every company selling pearls have their own created system of pearl grading. Grades are based upon a certain percentage of surface blemishes, the specific rate of luster (the sharpness of reflections), and shape. Grading also differs for different types of pearls.
How to Buy Pearl Jewelry Online
Buying jewelry online means you are shopping for an item without being able to see it and feel it in real time, because of this, you must keep a few things in mind.
- Make sure there is a solid return policy
- Work with a vendor who is willing to answer your questions directly via email or phone
- Look for a good selection and secure packaging
- Free shipping is a bonus that many online vendors offer
- If you are buying a gift, a couple of good tips:
- The most popular necklace length is the 18-inch, Princess Length
- The most popular pearl earring sizes range from 6.0-8.0mm – stick within 7.0-8.0mm sizes for adult women, and 6.0-7.0mm sizes for petites and “first pearls” gifts.
- The most popular necklace length is the 18-inch, Princess Length
Where to Buy Pearls From?
A pearl is a timeless beauty! If you are thinking of buying pearls, then the most important thing to primarily consider is buying pearls from a reliable and trusted source. I have two shops I recommend: James Allen and Blue Nile.
It is highly recommended to buy pearls from James Allen. James Allen has the best collection of pearl fine jewelry including pearl necklaces, pearl and diamond earrings, pearl bracelets, and pearl rings.
James Allen offers 24/7 costumer service, lifetime warranty including repair and maintenance, free worldwide shipping, hassle-free returns, free engraving, and 1 year free resizing.
Click here to visit James Allen and own this timeless, sophisticated beauty!
Blue Nile has a reputation as a reliable and trustworthy company, making them a great source for pearl jewelry.
Blue Nile offers an stunning range of high quality pearl jewelry at competitive prices. They have a selection of freshwater, Tahitian, Akoya and Golden South Sea pearl jewelry.
They offer free lifetime warranty, free gift packaging and a 30-day refund policy, no questions asked.
Click here to visit Blue Nile and browse their selection of unique designs.