good news is there has never been such a bountiful variety of cultured
pearls on the market as there is today. One can choose from pearls
of just about every size, shape and color, and there are attractive
and high-quality pearls available in just about every price range.
There are Chinese freshwater cultured pearls in a stunning array
of body colors and bright overtones never seen in the traditional
round Akoya pearl strands. Small, attractive baroque fresh water
cultured pearls can be found for under $10 a strand at the major
wholesale trade shows. Even South Sea and Tahitian cultured pearls,
the largest, rarest and most expensive of them all, are relatively
affordable just now as increased supply has softened wholesale prices
on these items.
your budget is $20, $200, $2000 or $20,000 here are some general guidelines
in shopping for pearl strands:
quality differences can be seen with your own eyes -- you don't need
a laboratory. It's important to shop around for a good selection
before making a decision, however. Many stores will stock only one
quality, and it is by comparing a variety of colors, shapes and qualities
that you will develop an "eye" for pearls and a sense of
your own preferences, and where to buy for the best value.
are actually two colors to consider when looking at pearls, the body
color and the secondary overtone color that is usually, but not always,
present. The overtone color isn't always obvious, especially when
it is similar to the body color itself. It can sometimes be seen
as a sheen or a "pool" of secondary color on the crest
of the pearl or pearls.
common naturally occurring body colors in Akoya cultured pearls are
white, cream and pink. (In pearl parlance, "rose" is often
used for the word "pink".) A silver, cream or pink overtone
is considered most desirable in these colors. In black pearls (whether
dyed or natural), including gray and blue hues, blue and green overtones
are considered most desirable. A yellow body color in pearls has
traditionally been considered undesirable, probably due to a cultural
preference for pink pearls on the part of the Japanese, but these
pearls can look absolutely fantastic on certain darker skins. Color
preference is subjective, and there's no such thing as a "bad
color". Most people choose the color they feel flatters their
natural skin tones. Whatever the body color and overtone may be,
the pearls within a strand should match one another.
and comparing pearl strand, lay them flat on a white or champagne-colored
non-reflective surface, such as a velvet-covered tray. The best vantage
point for comparing color is to hold the tray just below eye-level
with the strands next to each other. Diffuse full-spectrum light
is best for judging color. A black background is dramatic but obscures
the fine quality points.
should have a bright, even, reflective surface. Examine several strands.
How clear is the reflection of your own image in the surface of the
pearls? The clearer the reflected image, the higher the luster. High
luster is high quality and often (but not always) indicative of good
to the amount of nacre on the nucleus. Most commercial pearls these
day are "thin coat", meaning they were not left in the
oyster long enough. Thin coat pearls are not as lustrous, and may
chip or even peel. To check for thin coat, hold a length of strand
just under a strong light source and roll it back and forth between
your fingers. If you see the "wink" of the mother-of-pearl
(shell) bead through the nacre, the coating is thin.
with a "clean" surface will reflect light more evenly and
is therefore more valuable than a pearl with a blemished surface.
Most pearls have blemishes, and the smaller and closer to the drill
hole a blemish is, the better. Blemishes on the crest of a pearls
are least desirable.
pearls should be just that, round. Even the best strands may contain
the occasional off round bead, however. Pearls are described as being
round, semi-round, off-round, or baroque, in order of descending
desirability (and price). As with color preference, a preference
for round vs. baroque-shaped pearls in a personal thing. Good new
for those who prefer round pearls, In recent years the Chinese have
successfully cultivated near-round white fresh water pearls. you
really have to look closely to notice that they are not absolutely
spherical. At this writing these pearls are not readily available
in sizes above 6 or 7 mm. they typically have a softer, diffuse luster
and are quite white with little overtone. But they are very good
looking and also very inexpensive compared to their Akoya cultured
pearl sizes are expressed as a size range, 7 x 7.5 mm means that
every pearl in the strand will fall somewhere in that range. The
pearls will generally have been graduated so the ones closer to 7.5
mm. are in the front. All other factors being equal, the larger the
pearl, the more expensive it will be. Strands 9 x 8.5 mm. or larger
will be significantly more expensive.
AND OTHER PROCESSING
of a strand can be spoiled by the inclusion of pearls that have been
drilled off-center. "Eccentric drilling" gives a pearl
a slightly askew look that is worse when a strand is freshly (tightly)
strung. to check for eccentric drilling, roll section of a strand
between your fingers. The eccentrically drilled beads will bob up
and down like pistons.
are pearls that have been made round by the grinding off o a knob
or bump near a drill hole. Oftentimes the grinding will remove the
nacre and leave the nucleus exposed. Because the integrity of the
pearl is compromised, worked pearls are undesirable.
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