Pearl Necklaces

Selecting The Perfect Pearl Necklace

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If you’re new to pearls and shopping for a pearl necklace, the wide range of options may seem a bit daunting at first.
There are so many different types, sizes, colors and lengths to choose from. If you’re like most, the grading can be confusing as well.

Give me a few minutes of your time and I promise to give you a bit of clarity.

Jeremy Shepherd - Founder & CEO of PearlParadise.com, Inc.

Grading Pearl Necklaces

Let’s begin with pearl grading. If you’ve spent much time browsing stores and other websites, you’ve probably seen grading scales that appear to be all over the place. Some companies grade with letters, others grade with numbers and some companies don’t post any grades at all. It doesn’t make sense, does it? Well there is a reason.

You’re probably familiar with the four C’s of diamond grading: cut, color, carat weight and clarity. In pearl grading, there are seven value factors. They include size, shape, color, luster, surface quality, nacre quality and matching. But here’s the catch! Unlike diamonds, there is no industry standard for grading pearls.

What does this mean for you? Simple. You cannot comparison shop by grade alone. A pearl necklace graded AAA by one retailer might only be worth 1/10th the value of a necklace graded the same by another. Pearl grading is subjective and every company selling pearls (on the planet) grades differently.

What you can use for comparison shopping is reputation. If shopping online, Google is your best friend in this regard. You can quickly determine whether a pearl seller is known to offer fine quality at an affordable value, and whether they stand behind their products. Legitimate retailers will have a lot written about them online.

An Overview of Pearl Paradise Grading

Pearl Types Used in Strands

First let’s start with the biggest misconception people have when they first begin their search for the perfect pearl necklace. You want a strand of cultured pearls. Trust me. You don't want a strand of natural pearls. Pearl farming, or the practice of inducing pearl oysters to grow pearls, replaced the natural pearl trade a full century ago. Natural pearls do still exist, but a fine strand may cost you more than a million dollars.

There are four basic varieties of cultured pearls commonly available today: akoya pearls, freshwater pearls, Tahitian pearls and South Sea pearls. Each offers you something different and each can be magnificently beautiful.

Akoya Pearl Necklaces

There are four basic varieties of cultured pearls commonly available today: akoya pearls, freshwater pearls, Tahitian pearls and South Sea pearls. Each offers you something different and each can be magnificently beautiful.

Akoya pearls are known for their color, shape and most of all their luster. Luster is the quantity and quality of light that reflects from the surface of the pearl. This is the most important factor in choosing an akoya pearl necklace. It’s what makes the pearls shine. It’s also a proof-positive indicator of whether the pearls spent enough time in their mother oyster. Do you remember the part about a seller’s reputation?

Akoya pearl oysters are seeded with a perfect round bead and put back into the water for (hopefully) a period of 1.5-2 years. But many (too many) farmers harvest after only a few months. The pearls might look similar in the beginning, but they won’t last more than a couple of years.

The finest akoya pearls are called “hanadama” by the trade. Wait! Does this mean you can comparison price shop hanadama grade pearls? Not so much, unfortunately. It is still subjective and even when graded by a laboratory, there is a wide range. It comes down to reputation once again.

I should mention this side note about akoya pearls. Nearly all akoya are perfectly round and white, but exotic natural-color blues, silver-blues, golds and baroques exist. These are considered very rare and you will have a very hard time finding them in a jewelry store.

The most popular size of akoya pearl necklace is 7-7.5 mm, while 8-8.5 mm takes a close second. Unless you’re purchasing a strand for a young lady, I would caution against going much smaller.

View Our Collection of Akoya Pearl Necklaces

Freshwater Pearl Necklaces

Freshwater pearls have been around nearly as long as akoya, but have never been considered quite as valuable, even though they are more “pearl” than akoya. How so? Freshwater pearls are traditionally grown without a bead. They are 100% nacre (pearl). Why are they considered less valuable? A freshwater shell can grow dozens of pearls at a time. Most akoya oysters only grow one or two at a time.

If you’ve seen freshwater pearls in a store, you probably think freshwater pearls are all weird shapes and not very shiny. This is most often the case. They aren’t as round as akoya because they don’t have a bead in the center. But fine freshwater pearls do exist. The finest, like those we refer to as “freshadama,” are nearly indistinguishable from fine akoya pearls in shape, color and luster.

If this is the first strand of pearls for you or someone you’re shopping for, consider freshwater. Not only do they offer the akoya look at a lower price, they also commonly grow in natural pastel colors. You’re only going to find those colors (naturally) in freshwater pearls.

Fine quality freshwater pearls are almost always sorted in half millimeter sizes, and this makes a big difference in value. If you were to compare a strand of 7-8 mm pearls with a strand measuring 7.5-8 mm (our most popular), the latter would be noticeably larger, shinier and more round.

View Our Collection of Freshwater Pearl Necklaces

Tahitian Pearl Necklaces

Have you been to Tahiti in French Polynesia? If so, I am sure you will agree it is one of the most exotic vacation destinations. The pearls that grow there are no less exotic. They are often called “black pearls,” but in reality, Tahitian pearls exhibit a rainbow of colors. The most popular is dark green.

I have a particular affinity for Tahitian pearls. Over the years, I’ve spent time in some of the remotest parts of French Polynesia. On one trip, I brought a film crew to a pearl farm and shot a 20-minute documentary. That documentary won first place at the International Family Film Festival.

If you are considering a Tahitian pearl necklace, I’m sure you can spare 20 minutes to watch this. Afterwards, you will know more about Tahitian pearls than 99% of GIA graduate jewelers.

View Our Collection of Tahitian Pearl Necklaces

South Sea Pearl Necklaces

I have a feeling if you’re looking for a South Sea pearl necklace, you’ve already done a bit of pearl research and you’ve likely purchased pearls in the past. South Sea pearls are not what I would typically recommend for a first strand of pearls. Unless you’re the type that starts at the top.

South Sea pearls are the largest and most valuable of all pearls farmed today. They are farmed in remote areas of Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia and a few other countries. The pearl oyster that grows these gems is the largest used in pearl farming. It’s the size of an American dinner plate. The pearls are the size of marbles.

There are two types of South Sea pearls: those grown in the silver-lip and those grown in the gold-lip pearl oyster. You guessed it. White and silver South Sea pearls grow in the former and the ultra-valuable gold South Sea pearls in the latter. The make some of the most beautiful and most valuable South Sea pearl necklaces in the world.

These are statement pearls. If you’re the wearer, you’re making a statement. If you’re the giver, you’re making a statement. It’s impossible to wear a strand of South Sea pearls and not be noticed.

View Our Collection of South Sea Pearl Necklaces

Pearl Knotting

Pearl necklaces should (almost) always be knotted between each pearl. This is very important. The knots prevent the pearls from rubbing against one another and they also protect your investment. If your necklace were to break, your pearls wouldn’t scatter. The only exception to the knotting rule is with small, graduated strands. These do not look nice with knots so are typically only knotted near the clasp.

Silk is the most popular thread, although many companies use a silk, more and more are beginning to use synthetic fibers because they tend to be more durable. Either is fine.

Choosing the Right Pearl Size

If you’re new to pearls, I know this is a question you will or already have been pondering. What size of pearl suits me/her. How would a 6 mm strand of akoya look compared with an 8 mm strand of freshadama? How would either compare to a 10 mm strand of Tahitian?

We’ve been in the pearl business for 20 years now. I can confidently say what are the most popular sizes. These sizes are safe. They aren’t too big and they aren’t too small. If you’re looking for something on the smaller side, go smaller. If you’re looking for something on the larger side, go larger.

The most popular size of akoya pearl is 7-7.5 mm. A very close second is 8-8.5 mm.

Freshwater pearl necklaces measuring 7.5-8 mm reign supreme. The second most popular is 8.5-9 mm.

Tahitian pearl necklaces are inherently larger pearls. Strands are typically graduated with smaller pearls near the clasp and larger pearls near the center. We import thousands of Tahitian pearls every year and pearl ranging from 8 to 11 mm account for more than 90%. That says something.

South Sea pearls are the largest. If you’re in the market for a South Sea pearl necklace, you already want large pearls. The most popular and the most wearable size ranges from 10 to 14 mm.

If you’re considering a necklace that is smaller or larger than these, remember this little piece of trivia. Pearls are measured in millimeters at their center point between the drill holes. A couple millimeters may seem insignificant, but it’s not if you think in terms of volume.

Choosing the Right Length

The length of a pearl necklace is a personal preference. What look are you going for? If you plan to wear your pearls more casually, you’re probably better suited to a shorter strand. Longer strands are considered more formal, although this is not a rule.

The most popular lengths are 16 inches and 18 inches. Strands as long as 35 inches and even 50 inches are also very popular because they can be worn long or doubled up.

Do you want to become a pearl expert?

My team and I are here to answer any additional questions you may have. Just drop us an email or give us a call. I am confident there is no pearl-related question we can’t answer. We live and breathe pearls every day.

If you’re the type who wants to learn everything possible about pearls, I can help you there too! In 2016, I wrote and created the Cultured Pearl Association of America’s pearl specialist certification course. It’s the most up-to-date and comprehensive pearl course available. If you take this course, you will have an expert-level knowledge of pearls. You will know more about pearls than your local jeweler. You will earn a certificate from the Cultured Pearl Association of America that you can put on your resume. I don’t know whether you need it. But you must admit, it would be pretty cool.

The course is called Pearls as One and is $599. As the author, I can give it to you for free. There is no catch. It is 100% free. Just go to www.PearlsAsOne.org, enroll and redeem the sponsorship coupon code PP10951.

Happy learning!

Jeremy Shepherd
Founder & CEO