The qualities that determine a natural or cultured pearl’s value are size, shape, color, luster, surface quality, nacre quality, and—for jewelry with two or more pearls—matching.
FIND A JEWELER
Use your zip code to find a jeweler near you with GIA reports and GIA-trained staff.
FIND A REPORT
Verify the information on your report matches what is archived in the GIA report database.
What To Look For
Of the seven pearl value factors, luster might be the most important. Luster is what gives a natural or cultured pearl its unique beauty. Pearls with high luster have sharp bright reflections on the surface. Different pearl varieties have different standards for luster.
If surface characteristics are numerous or severe, they can affect the durability of the pearl and severely depress its value. Surface characteristics have less effect on the pearl’s beauty and value if they are few in number, or if they are minor enough to be hidden by a drill-hole or mounting.
Pearls come in eight basic shapes: round, semi-round, button, drop, pear, oval, baroque, and circled. Perfectly spherical pearls and symmetrical drops are the most valued. There are exceptions, though. Well-formed pear, oval, or baroque cultured pearls are also prized by pearl lovers.
Pearl body colors vary by variety. Although white and black are traditional, unusual colors are becoming more popular. Overtones in a pearl’s luster and the rainbow iridescence known as orient also add to the color of a pearl.
Luster and nacre quality are closely related. If the nucleus is visible under the nacre, or if the pearl has a dull, chalky appearance, you can assume that the nacre is thin. This affects the luster as well as the durability of the pearl. Nacre thickness is evaluated to make sure that cultured pearls are durable as well as beautiful.
Jewelry designers sometimes deliberately mix colors, shapes, and sizes for unique effects, but for most pearl strands, earrings, or other multiple-pearl jewelry, the pearls should match in all the quality factors.
Pearl Quality Factors: The Comprehensive Guide
Tips & Advice
1. Consider mixing pearl colors and origins.
Although single-color strands are still the most common, mixing pearl colors and types is a fresh way to wear pearls. Multicolor strands often contain rare colors because it is too difficult to find enough of them to create a whole strand.
2. Add versatility with an adjustable clasp.
Traditional strands range from 14-16-inch chokers to 17-18 inch princess to longer matinee, opera, and rope lengths. New clasps allow you to create different lengths. For example, a long strand might be worn single, double, or as a shorter necklace.
3. Have your pearls restrung before they break.
Although pearls last generations, the string they are knotted on may not. Be sure to have your pearls checked regularly and restring them if there are signs of wear.