Selecting and Wearing Your Pearls

Elegant. Sexy. Sophisticated. Demure. Daytime. Evening. At home, in the office or a night on the town, there's a strand of pearls to fit the moment. Rose-hued pearls look best with lighter complexions. For darker skin tones, consider gold and cream-colored pearls.  

Length: Depending on the occasion, your stature and what you wear, here's what you need to know in choosing a pearl necklace.

Collar (12-13 inches): Three or more strands hugging the middle of your neck. Creates a more formal, elegant impression. The ideal complement to v-neck and off-the-shoulder styling.

Choker (14-16 inches): A single strand circling the base of your neck, just above the collarbone. Classic simplicity that goes with everything. Perfect for all styles and occasions.

Princess (18 inches): Versatile accent highlights a variety of fashions. Enhances the formality of crew and high necklines. A stunning counterpoint to plunging necklines.

Matinee (20-24 inches): Catches the top of your cleavage. As its name implies, a style you can wear to an afternoon at the theater. 

Opera (28-34 inches): Signals style and confidence. Ever so chic with turtlenecks. Or, for an entirely different look, create your own double choker.

Rope (45 inches or more): Think of it more as a glamorous pearl lariat, capturing both your sexy and elegant moods. For day or night, under an open jacket or dangling from a high neckline.Judging Pearl Quality: 5 Points of Value  Size: This is usually the most critical factor in determining value. Large natural pearls are worth more than similarly sized cultured pearls. Because natural pearl fishing has declined, large natural varieties are rarer. Natural pearls also contain more nacre than cultured pearls of the same size. Thus, they will be priced more highly.

Shape: The most desired pearls are perfectly round. Two sought after variations are slightly off- round and off-round. The first, is detected only by instrument. A trained eye confirms the second. Other popular shapes include the drop, pear, egg and button. More irregular shapes are also prized.

Depending on the kind of oyster, the surfaces of pearls may range from smooth to rough. Smoother pearls are worth more than grainy ones. Irregular surfaces may display raised or depressed dots, color spots and bumps. Ultimately, these features reflect the pearl's natural origin.

Luster: Look at a pearl under a microscope. The surface is an amazing world of ultra-fine ridges. Though the ridges cannot be seen with the naked eye, their ability to reflect light causes the iridescence we call luster. The better the nacre, the brighter the luster. To appreciate the differences in luster, examine pearls of varying quality and price. Cultured pearls are graded very bright, bright, medium, slightly dull and dull. Akoya and Mabé pearls are especially noted for their luster.Color: When you think about pearl color, think also about skin tones, the shade of your hair, the hues you like to wear. Pearl colors accent and complement. They vary widely. Names like rosé, white rosé, cream, white, blue white, yellowish white and hard yellow are all part of the pearl color palette. When deciding on color, compare several pearls or necklaces near one another. This makes the differences easier to see. 

Pearl Types

Akoya pearls are named for the Japanese oyster cultivated to produce classically round cultured pearls.

varieties, which come in both natural and cultured versions, are prized for their irregular shapes.

refers to freshwater pearls grown in Lake Biwa in Japan. Rarely perfectly round, they may be oval-like or baroque.

pearls are natural half pearls. Their flat sides make them ideal for mounting in a bezel.  Many have a mother-of-pearl insert and are referred to as mabés.

pearls are two or more pearls united by birth. Though joined, each pearl retains its distinctive shape.

versions are shaped like drawn-out water drops, globular at the bottom and tapering to a point at the opposite end.

pearls are tiny seed pearls, pierced and strung as necklaces.

pearls, owing to imperfections, begin life whole, but are sawed in two and mounted like Blister pearls.

is often a South Sea pearl, cultivated for its large size and mounted with a bezel. Pronounced "mah-bay".

pearls, natural salt-water pearls so named before the advent of cultured pearls, come mainly from Oriental waters.

Paragon, or master, pearls are superior in shape, size, color and luster. They are exceptionally large and round.

Natural pearls
occur when an oyster seeks to protect itself from a tiny intruder that gets inside its shell. Intruders in the form of sand or pieces of shell are layered over with nacre. Nacre, a secretion of mother-of-pearl, builds up over time to form a spherical pearl. The luster created by the accumulation of nacre is highly prized and an essential quality of fine, natural pearls.  Natural pearl-bearing oysters live along coasts at a depth of 50 feet. The Persian Gulf has yielded some of the most lustrous pearls since antiquity. They are renowned for their red and creamy white sheen. Smaller, seed pearls--mainly pinky red and soft yellow--are found in beds in the Gulf of Manaar, between India and Sri Lanka.A tour of other natural pearl beds leads to the waters off Japan, the South Pacific Islands off northern Australia and the Gulf of California. The coasts of Panama and Venezuela, in the Caribbean Sea, are also rich birthplaces of natural pearls. Fishing for natural pearls has declined, as cultured pearls have grown to account for some 90 percent of the pearl trade.

Cultured pearls
are cultivated by inserting a mother of pearl bead inside the oyster. In response, the oyster deposits the pearlescent nacre around the bead. When the process begins with man's help, the intruding bead is typically much larger than a grain of sand. Creating a cultured pearl takes much less time than for a natural pearl, but three years is best.  NOTE:  Most "promotional" pearls are harvested in less than 1 year- these pearls will not last through normal wear! 
Japanese and Australian coastal waters are the main sources of cultured, Akoya (saltwater) pearls. Careful cultivation produces pearls of fine color and iridescent luster. Non-round, irregularly shaped pearls have grown in favor with pearl lovers and jewelry designers alike.The largest of all cultured pearls thrives in the warm coastal seas of the Indian and Pacific oceans. Called South Sea pearls, they come in many colors, from various whites and white pinks, through golds to blue gray.Black pearls, a stunning accent to evening wear, begin life in the languid waters off the island of Tahiti. Light gray to charcoal, Tahitian pearls are valued for their size and dark sensual hues. Large Tahitian pearls rank among the rarest. Their singular shapes challenge the jeweler's art to match pearls for earrings and necklaces.

Streams, lakes and rivers around the world are sources of fresh water pearls. Two varieties, the Biwa of Japan and China pearls cultivated in China, are the most popular. Because more than one pearl at a time can be grown in freshwater mussels, the pearls tend to be less expensive than saltwater pearls.  Freshwater versions offer a greater color range than their natural or cultured saltwater cousins. Biwa pearls were originally of higher quality than China pearls. Because environmental factors have cut the output of Biwa pearls and because the cultivation of China pearls has improved, large round China pearls are especially prized.  More recently, the Chinese freshwater pearls have begun to rival, not only the Japanese pearls, but also the South Sea varieties.