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How to Judge the Value of Pearls

Few things can make a woman feel more elegant than wearing a strand of pearls around her neck. In ancient Rome, pearls were considered more exquisite than diamonds. Julius Caesar supposedly barred women of certain social statuses from wearing pearl necklaces and accessories.

Today, men and women from all walks of life appreciate pearls for their beauty and luster. Pearl strands make a jewelry collection complete, and pearl earrings are complementary to a variety of personal styles.

How to Judge Pearl Jewelry

Wearing pearl jewelry is chic. For something of such timeless beauty, pearls can present a challenge to the shopper trying to assess the quality of pearls. Unlike diamonds, which are ranked by color and clarity, there is no universal system when it comes to judging pearls. Instead, experts and buyers generally consider six factors when gauging the value of pearls: color, size, shape, luster, surface quality and how well they match.

Take a hint from the experts and consider these six special characteristics when assessing the value of pearls. You'll feel more confident picking the right pearls for you.

Pearls Come in a Range of Colors

Depending on a pearl's pedigree, it will often have a distinctive color.

Freshwater pearls come in a variety of soft, pastel hues. Tahitian pearls come in cool colors like gray, black and silver. South Sea pearls, which tend to be larger, are white or have a platinum or gold cast.

The American Gem Trade Association points out that pearls can also be dyed and bleached to change their color, but natural pearls tend to be most valuable.

Size Matters in Pearls

Formed over time by expanding in microscopic layers, pearls that are large are generally more valuable. In this case, bigger is often better.

Pearls are measured in millimeters and usually range from 2 millimeters to 20 millimeters in diameter, then rounded to the next half-millimeter. For example, an 8.5mm strand would likely be made of 8.0-millimeter to 8.5-millimeter pearls, with smaller stones closer to the clasp.

11mm Cultured Pearl and .25 ct. t.w. Diamond Ring in 14kt White Gold

A Round Pearl is a Better Pearl

The most sought-after pearls are spherical, but that isn't the only shape found at the jewelry counter.

Because they're made by nature, pearls come in an assortment of organic shapes. Perfectly round pearls are, by and large, the most valuable variety, but other symmetrical shapes are also highly sought after. Baroque pearls are uneven and unique, and more affordable than their spherical sisters.

Smooth is Better

As a rule of thumb, smooth pearls are preferred over those with bumps or ridges. Pearls without visible wrinkles or dimples are considered higher quality, and generally cost more than those with an uneven surface.

Again, the epitome of the characteristic will add up to a higher price.

Look for the Luster

Luster refers to a pearl's sheen. To gauge luster, hold a pearl under a light. If the reflection is bright and sharp, the pearl likely has a high luster - which often corresponds to a higher value in today's market.

However, this aspect of pearls' value can change with fashion. In the 1950s, subtler pearl necklaces were prized.

Matching is Key in Pearl Strands

Well-matched pearl strands are made up of uniform pearls, each stone matching in size, shape and smoothness. It's surprisingly difficult to find identical pearls, and this is reflected in the pearl necklace's value.

Pearl jewelry is a refined addition to any woman's jewelry wardrobe. Beautiful pearls can add an heirloom-quality elegance to a jewelry collection. Keep these six characteristics in mind when you shop for the perfect pearl, whether in a ring, necklaces or strands.

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