Buying pearls

MariposaTraicioneraJanuary 13, 2006

I want to get a strand of pearls for a very special someone. I've never owned or bought pearls before and I'm clueless. They're just not my thing, but my mother would love them.

Any advice would be appreciated. Also, from what I've seen so far, freshwater pearls are a lot cheaper but is the quality that great? I want to give something classy and reasonably good quality.

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There is a web site called, they only talk about jewelry and several jewelers hang around there. You can probably get a lot of information quickly.

Pearls are one of the hardest gem to shop for, to get quality. Freshwater pearls are less expensive because they are easier to harvest and cultivate, they can still be of good quality.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2006 at 1:24PM
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Hi Mariposa,
Pearls are graded based on their thickness and finess of nacre, the substance that coats the seed.

Pearls today are either cultured or costume. There is no such thing as a "natural" pearl on the common market. While they certainly do exist in nature, a truly natural pearl (with a bit of sand as it's seed) of round shape and good size and luster would be priceless.

With cultured pearls, a seed (typically a round white ball) is introduced into the oyster's shell, and it builds nacre around it. The longer the seed is left to culture, the more nacre is built up, and the deeper the luster of the pearl - and the higher the price. Below is a photo that I spotted of a particularly fine quality pearl necklace. You can see the beautiful lustre, even in the photograph. These pearls would be rated AAA and would be fairly costly.

With costume pearls, the nacre is man-made, in that it is ground up nacre that is coated over a bead. While they are very pretty, these pearls do not possess the deep luster of a finely cultured pearl.

Pearls are graded for color, lustre, condition and size.
A top of the line strand would be something in the area of an 8mm size, in good creamy color with no blemish, of AAA rating. I've put a link to a pearl guide below.

In pearl circles today, Mikimoto is considered to be one of the best manufacturers of fine cultured pearls, and I believe a 16-18" necklace of 8mm pearls would cost in the area of $600. Another alternative would be Akoya pearls, which I've heard are just beautiful and less expensive. Ebay has both for sale in large numbers.

A warning about pearls though...they are one of the easiest of all things to reproduce and fake. To the untrained eye, especially on line, it can be difficult if not impossible to verify the quality of the pearls you would be buying. I would suggest that you visit a quality jewelry store to see good pearls for yourself first hand. Barring that, I would go to the jewelry counter in a large, quality department store. At least there you know if they say it's AA or AAA quality, you can feel good about it.
Good luck! :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Pearl guide

    Bookmark   January 13, 2006 at 1:38PM
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Tiffany's has recently opened several pearls only stores called Iridesse. There is a web site, and 6 stores. The web site is limited, but they do have brochures on pearl education that they will send you, and some pearl education on the web site.
Their freshwater pearls are priced ok (for a very fancy store) but you have to inquire about them as you will not see them on the web site or out in the stores. The cultured pearls they have on the web site are beautiful but really $$$$.

DH bought me a multi-strand necklace of freshwater pearls from the White Planes store, and said the clerk spent about an hour with him discussing pearl quality, buying an so on.

A single strand of pearls is about as classy as you can get,IMHO. Fresh water pearls are very nice, but in a slightly different category, I think. You do not need to get top quality pearls to have a very nice strand. If it was me buying, I would do as much research as possible, including time at a reputable jeweler, and then I would compare prices on line.

Here is a link that might be useful: Iridesse store

    Bookmark   January 13, 2006 at 2:01PM
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My mother left me a double strand of opera-length pearls. I had them re-strung and a new 14K gold clasp put on them. After having the work done, I had them appraised and at that time (12 years ago) they were appraised at $900.00. After reading the above posts, I plan on having them re-appraised.
meskauskas-very informative post...thank you!

    Bookmark   January 13, 2006 at 2:38PM
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I have a graduated strand of pearls that my grandfather gave to my grandmother in probably the 1940's. My mother had them restrung when she gave them to me about 15 years ago, and they were restrung again recently when the clasp came off. I've always been curious how to clean them. meskauskas, or anyone...what's the best way to clean pearls?


    Bookmark   January 13, 2006 at 6:15PM
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My oh my, I certainly have a lot of information on pearls. Thanks a bunch to all who posted. I feel much better about going out to look at pearls armed with knowledge. It would make things much easier than if I turned up at a jewellery store and took in the sales pitch without knowing what to ask.

I didn't realise you could have them restrung. Good to know. Susan, hope someone comes with answers for you.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2006 at 7:29PM
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I'm not sure you are supposed to clean them. Someone will correct me if I'm wrong, I'm sure ;)
I know you have to be very careful about lotions and or perfumes when you wear pearls, lots of stuff can damage them, and I remember reading that pearls like to be worn. Ladies used to wear them to bed, because they were supposed to become more beautiful the more you wore them.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2006 at 10:37PM
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The way that I have been taught to take care of pearls involves a two-pronged approach; prevention and VERY gentle cleaning.

- Make sure that your pearls are stored in their own box, safe from being rubbed up against other jewelry that may scratch or abraise it. Storing your pearls in their own box also prevents accumulation of dust, which can soil both the silk knotting cord and the pearls themselves.
- If at all possible, the box you store your pearls in should be one that is made for them, and holds the strand in such a way as to prevent the pearls from touching. Pearls can scratch each other if they rub against each other. I've attached a photo of the type of box below.
- If you cannot obtain a box like the one described above, pearls can be laid out straight, wrapped in a thin piece of white silk or other soft material, and gently coiled in a standard box to prevent their rubbing against each other.
- Never hang your pearls on a hook, as that can weaken the silk as well.
- Before putting your pearls on, make sure that you have already applied all of the makeup, perfume or hair spray that you are going to use beforehand. This is especially true of perfume sprays which can contain alchohol, which is very damaging to pearls.

- After wearing your pearls, it's a good idea to wipe them down gently with a soft cloth before putting them away to help remove any excess skin oil they may have picked up.
- To wash pearls, the only way that I have ever heard acceptable is to use a mild solution of ivory soap and water. Gently wash your pearls, and then lay them out on a terrycloth towel in a straight line to air dry. Make sure they are thoroughly dry before putting them back in their box. Do not attempt to speed up the drying process by using a blow dryer or any other product that produces heat, as that can damage the nacre.
- Inspect the silk chord frequently, especially after washing. Any signs of fraying indicate that the strand should be inspected by a professional jeweler to see if they should be re-strung.
- Never, under ANY cirmcumstances clean your pearls using any cleaning chemicals, harsh cleaners or abraisives.
- Never clean your pearls in an ultrasonic.

Properly maintained, a strand of nice pearls should last years and years before needing to be restrung.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2006 at 1:23AM
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Went to see some pearls today and there were so many to choose from! The valuable information helped me a great deal. I haven't purchased any because I am not ready yet, but reading and learning first sure made a difference when the sales person began to explain why the prices were so much higher for one strand over another.

THANK you all.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2006 at 7:26PM
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