By Richard Wise
1. There are two types of pearls--natural and cultured. In today’s market just about every pearl you see will be cultured, i.e. the hand of man had something to do with manufacturing the pearl.
2. We are experiencing a pearl renaissance. There are more types of pearls on the market than ever before. Twenty years ago the Japanese Akoya stood virtually alone. Today you can choose from: Freshwater pearls, South Sea white, Tahitian black, and South Sea golden pearls.
3. What’s the best buy in pearls? The Chinese Freshwater Pearl. These pearls are cultured without a bead and are pure pearl. They are available in natural pastel or white. The best will stand toe-to-toe with any pearl in the world, and can be purchased for a third of the price.
4. Pearls are often treated, usually to change or improve the color. Natural colors are, by far, the most beautiful. Japanese Akoya, the pearl that is seen most in the market, is routinely bleached white, then dyed, to give it a pinkish overtone.
5. A fine pearl has what experts call “life”. This is a combination of high surface luster and overtone, an ephemeral misty glow that seems to hover over the surface of the pearl. In white pearls the overtone will normally be pink. In black pearls, the overtone will be green, red or blue. Look at the pearl(s) under a light bulb; if you can distinctly see the outline of the bulb, the pearl has high luster.
6. To judge if all the pearls in a strand are round, hold the strand taut between your hands and rotate the strand; if some of the pearls jump about, the strand is not completely round.
7. Pearls have flaws just like other gems. These may be dimples, scratches or cracks. A few dimples here and there should not be of much concern, but a scratch or crack is unacceptable in a fine strand.
8. Odd shaped pearls, called baroques, are not to be disparaged if they have good luster and no scratches or cracks. These pearls tend to be a bit less formal, with a younger, hipper look than the more expensive rounds, and they are available at a substantially lower price.
9. Beware the Japanese Akoya pearl. If your grandmother or mother has a strand of white round pearls, they are likely Akoya. These pearls are formed by placing a shell bead in the oyster. In the last few years, Japanese farmers have dramatically reduced the time the pearl is allowed to develop, resulting in pearls with less than ¼ millimeter of pearl essence over the shell bead. These pearls lack luster and are prone to flaking.
10. Pearls come in many nuances of color, but color is not the issue. The real question is how the pearl looks against the skin of the intended wearer--a characteristic I call simpatico. Don’t prejudge, test the simpatico of each strand by placing it against the skin on the inside of the wrist. The skin in this area is the same color and texture as the skin around the ears and neck. The result may surprise you.
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About The Author
Richard W. Wise is the author of Secrets Of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseurs Guide To Precious Gemstones. To learn more, visit http://www.secretsofthegemtrade.com.