How to Shop for Pearls

And the winner of the freshwater pearl necklace giveaway!

Congrats to Cheryl! Your necklace will be on its way to you soon!

Thank you to everyone who entered! I’ve found pearls to be a crucial addition to building a wardrobe. I’d like to take this opportunity to share some pearl shopping tips to help you build your own collection.

What is a pearl?

A pearl is a hard object made inside a mollusk (oyster, mussel, clam, etc.) to protect itself from something that has gotten inside it’s shell. The pearl is made of many layers of calcium carbonate that the mollusk wraps around the irritating item to trap it, so it won’t harm the mollusk. Pearls are prized for their luster (shine) and iridescence (color changes when looked at from different angles).

Are they real or fake? The faux pearl test:

The easiest and quickest way to tell if a pearl is real or fake is the bite test. Simply place a pearl between your front teeth and gently bite down on it. A real pearl will feel gritty and sandy. A fake pearl will feel completely smooth.

~ disclaimer: sales associates will not be happy with you if you do this blatantly in a store. If you do the bite test, be discreet.

Another way is to look really closely at the pearls, but you need good eyesight for this one. Under a bright light or sunlight, look for imperfections in the pearl beads. Real pearls are never perfect, and pearl beads in a necklace will never match perfectly by size or color. If you look at them close and see differences in size and color, then chances are they are real. If every pearl is the same size and exact same color, chances are they are fake.

None of these test are fool proof, as fake pearl manufacturers try to make their pearls look and feel as real as possible. If you’re really concerned about the authenticity of your pearls, a gemologist can test for you, but it will cost money.

Pearl types:

Freshwater: These pearls are grown inside mollusks in non-ocean water. These are easy to grow and harvest, and often have less luster. These are often the more affordable pearl options.

Salt water: These pearls are grown inside mollusks in the ocean, usually in special lagoons called “farms”.

Cultured: Most pearls today are cultured. It simply means a mollusk has been implanted with an irritating material that makes it produce a pearl. The mollusks are harvested and opened a few months later to retrieve the pearl.

Natural: Natural pearls are really rare, and will cost a pretty penny. It just means a mollusk produced a pearl all on it’s own, and grew it for many years. Hundreds of mollusks can be harvested and opened to find even one natural pearl.

Baroque: Baroque pearls are not perfectly round. They can be flattened, oval, ringed, among many other varieties. These are usually cheaper because most people prefer that perfect round pearl necklace. I however, love baroque pearls. I think it makes a necklace really special and unique.

Akoya: The most popular type of salt water pearl. These are grown in the waters around China and Japan, and have a beautiful luster, but are generally small. Mikimoto pearls are Akoya.

Tahitian Black: These are a large, dark colored pearl. It is very hard to mass produce black pearls, so they tend to be very expensive.

South Sea: The most expensive type of pearl. These pearls are made in south sea oysters, which are rare, and difficult to harvest (these grow in deep water ocean habitats). They can also be quite large.

Pearl price points:
Real pearls can be affordable, you just have to know where to look…

$ – Freshwater cultured pearls. These are usually very affordable, and I often see them for even less than some fake pearls!

$$ – Akoya cultured pearls. These are the cheapest of the the salt water pearls. Prices can vary wildly, but some good deals can be found, especially online.

$$$ – Tahitian cultured pearls. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Tahitian necklace of round (not baroque) pearls for less than $2,000.

$$$$ – South Sea cultured pearls. So expensive, I can’t even imagine owning a necklace.

$$$$$ – Natural pearls.

Common necklace lengths:

Chokers (16 inch) & Princess (18 inch): The most common necklace lengths. These will drape nicely around your neck and rest above your blouse neckline. I prefer 16″ for my height, as I find 18″ is a bit too low for most of my blouses, and will get mixed up in my neckline.

Opera Length: Remember that pearl necklace that Carrie Bradshaw wears in Sex and the City the Movie? That is opera length. It was the necklace length du-jour for attending the opera, hence the name.

Rope: A very long pearl necklace that can be worn a variety of ways. You can loop it around two or three times for a layered look, or tie it in a knot. You could get creative and tie it around your waist as a belt, or loop it around your wrist for an arm full of pearls.

Mikimoto pearls…what are they? Any why are they so expensive?

Before the process to culture pearls existed, the only pearls were natural, and hard to find. When the process to culture pearls was discovered, Mikimoto acquired the patents and began culturing pearls in Japan. Mikimoto is the first company to commercially produce cultured pearls, and today, are high quality, cultured Akoya pearls, and can be quite expensive.

Majorca pearls…what are they? And why are they so expensive?

Majorca pearls are fake! They are man-made from glass. As for why they’re so expensive…I’m not sure. I would never pay money for Majorca fake pearls when I can buy real freshwater pearls for way less.

Chanel pearls…what are they? And why are they so expensive?

Chanel pearls are fake! They are glass, and also super expensive. Coco Chanel was actually known for wearing fake pearl necklaces mixed with real ones. The only reason I can think of for their high prices is brand status.

My favorite place to buy pearls online you ask? Pearl Paradise! My mom has been buying from them for years, and my Akoya necklace is from them. Check out their monthly specials for great deals. I am not affiliated with them…just a long time customer.

~ sources: wikipedia, chanel.com, pbs.org. pearl photos: sevenjewelsmanor.com

33 Comments

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    curls-and-pearls

    Congrats to the winner! Drats, didn't win again!

    Thanks for lesson on pearls, very informative! I met the owner of a jewellery store the other night and she was showing me all the lovely baroque pearls. I like them too, each one is unique!

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Banhannas

    Wow, I feel really educated with pearls now! LOL I love your little disclaimer to not bite down on pearls in stores. I'm pretty sure the sales associates will not be pleased. I'm a bit of a closet pearl lover, I love pearls but from afar. =0D I do love this guy's jewelry called Galatea Jewelry by Artist. They insert a gem inside a mollusk so a pearl forms around it. Then, someone carves a design into the pearl so the gem gets to peek out. I really want a ring from this company…ahhh. Have you heard of them before?

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Elle

    I love pearls, so thank you for the thorough breakdown of pearls! I feel so much more informed than before. :)

    Congrats to the winner!

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    AubreyOhDang!

    Congrats Cheryl! What a lucky winner.

    I love pearls. but I've never looked up the difference. so thanks for this post. I just get mine @ Costco. hahah. Is it just me, but I think costco has a great selection of jewelry. and they're all high quality.

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Jess

    I love pearls too! I have cultured pink, white and black pearls, and wear them all the time. I have been really wanting a necklace made of baroque chocolate pearls. Yum.

    I just tried the bite test on my pearls to see what you meant about the gritty sandiness. I definitely know what you mean now! This was a really interesting post!

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    curls-and-pearls – Baroque pearls are so much fun. I feel like they are a younger take on what can be perceived as a stodgy jewelry item.

    Banhannas – I've never heard of that line but it sounds amazing! I'm going to look them up right now.

    AubreyOhDang! – Costco actually does have some really nice stuff! My mom gets rings from there a lot. =)

    Jess – Ohhhh…chocolate baroque pearls sound delicious! Glad the bite test worked. I love showing people that. =)

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    PS…for everyone interested…yes, I have done the "bite test" in stores…but usually only for sale items in those giant sale bins (like at Macy's) or at discount stores like TJ Max. I like to know what I'm buying…and sometimes the answer can be fascinating! LOL.

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Amanda

    You may have just convinced me to get a pair of pearl studs from Pearlparadise.com. I am trying to decide if there is much of a difference between then AAA vs AA+? Any opinion?

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    Amanda – Good question! AAA and AA+ are ways to measure the quality of pearls, kinda like how diamonds have a grading system. A AAA pearl will have higher luster and have less defects (like tiny indentations, that you probably won't even be able to see anyways!). AAA is better quality than AA+, but for something like stud earrings, where they will be hiding in your hair, this kind of quality is not as important. AA+ are great quality pearls, and quite honestly, you wont' be able to see anything wrong with them at all. If you're getting a nice Akoya necklace and want to spend some $$, then go for AAA. The better quality will be more important for something like a necklace. Save some money on the pearl studs and go with the AA+. Pearl Paradise pearls are gorgeous, and the AA+ will look great! =)

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Callandra

    I love your disclaimer, so funny!!

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    The Little Dust Princess

    Congrats to the winner of the beautiful set of pearls! I didn't enter this one, but I've never won a blog giveaway before. LOL

    Thank you for providing us with all those pearl facts! I didn't know about all the different types there are… and the bite test.

    Regarding the bite test though, can't one just feel if the pearl is sandy or gritty? Just wondering. : )

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    Little Dust Princess – I've never been able to feel accurately by hand or by scratching if a pearl is real. Many cultured pearls are given a light layer of smoothing laquer, which is hard to tell by feel, but by biting, I can usually figure out if they're real or fake pretty quickly.

    Another way is to look really closely at the pearls, under a bright light or sunlight, and look for imperfections in the beads. Real pearls are never perfect, and pearl beads in a necklace will never match perfectly by size or color. If you look at them close and see differences in size and color, then chances are they are real. If every pearl is the same size and exact same color, chances are they are fake.

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    PetiteLittleGirl

    Those are great tips and very informative! I love pearls too but don't know a lot of things you have mentioned. I was browsing Pearl Paradise and they have AMAZING stuff. Thanks for letting us know. I definitely know where to shop for pearls next time

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Russian Chic

    I love Cheryl’s new pearl necklace. The length is so versatile and the pearl size is perfect for petite frame. AN, would it be possible to post the link to where this exact necklace could be purchased? Thank you.

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Claud

    I love Baroque pearls too. They are so unique and fun. I've been tempted with chanel costume jewelry but long time convinced myself that is not worth the high price, definetely is paying just for the CC brand. Though their pearl necklaces are gorgeous.

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    jlovesBal

    Great post, I learned a lot!! I have a black pearl pendant, and it has a tiny little dent "imperfection" on it.

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    Russian Chic – This necklace is not available online, and I don't know where more could be purchased. =(

    Claud – Chanel costume jewelry is really fun! But, I just can't ever pay those prices for fake gems.

    jlovesBal – Glad you learned about pearls! I like imperfections…it adds character!

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    stylepint

    Love this post and I learned a lot about pearls. Thanks for writing it all down in a way that's easy to read!

    I'm not too picky about pearls just yet since I have a necklace from my mom and some fake earrings to go with. But if I ever need to know more about pearls, I know how to look for a good quality set!

    Congrats to the winner! =)

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Canadianpetite

    Congrats to Cheryl!

    I love your post and sharing your source. Inspired by your giveway, I have been wearing my pearls more lately. Thanks for the excellent tutorial.

  • Reply September 30, 2010

    Cheryl

    Thanks for this giveaway! I can't wait to get the pearls in the mail!! :)

  • Reply September 30, 2010

    PetiteAsianGirl

    Nicely organized, helpful post. I purchase my pearls from ebay from sellers who have lots of positive feedback for the same or similar items. I just grinded my pearls between my teeth at work and got all sorts of facial expressions from coworkers lol.

  • Reply September 30, 2010

    PetiteXXS

    This has been very helpful… I've always wanted to learn more about pearls but have been too lazy to do the research myself :P

    And congrats to Cheryl! I am definitely jealous! :)

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Birdie!

    Ooh there's a bead store up the street from my place that always has real fresh and baroque pearls. I love the oddly egg-shaped pearls they offer – didn't know the oddballs were "baroque". Great post!

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Cheryl

    Thanks for this giveaway! I can't wait to get the pearls in the mail!! :)

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    stylepint

    Love this post and I learned a lot about pearls. Thanks for writing it all down in a way that's easy to read!

    I'm not too picky about pearls just yet since I have a necklace from my mom and some fake earrings to go with. But if I ever need to know more about pearls, I know how to look for a good quality set!

    Congrats to the winner! =)

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Claud

    I love Baroque pearls too. They are so unique and fun. I've been tempted with chanel costume jewelry but long time convinced myself that is not worth the high price, definetely is paying just for the CC brand. Though their pearl necklaces are gorgeous.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    The Little Dust Princess

    Congrats to the winner of the beautiful set of pearls! I didn't enter this one, but I've never won a blog giveaway before. LOL

    Thank you for providing us with all those pearl facts! I didn't know about all the different types there are… and the bite test.

    Regarding the bite test though, can't one just feel if the pearl is sandy or gritty? Just wondering. : )

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    PetiteXXS

    This has been very helpful… I've always wanted to learn more about pearls but have been too lazy to do the research myself :P

    And congrats to Cheryl! I am definitely jealous! :)

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Birdie!

    Ooh there's a bead store up the street from my place that always has real fresh and baroque pearls. I love the oddly egg-shaped pearls they offer – didn't know the oddballs were "baroque". Great post!

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Alterations Needed

    PS…for everyone interested…yes, I have done the "bite test" in stores…but usually only for sale items in those giant sale bins (like at Macy's) or at discount stores like TJ Max. I like to know what I'm buying…and sometimes the answer can be fascinating! LOL.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Amanda

    You may have just convinced me to get a pair of pearl studs from Pearlparadise.com. I am trying to decide if there is much of a difference between then AAA vs AA+? Any opinion?

  • Reply May 11, 2012

    Muhammad Atif

    Its very time consuming while shopping for pearls, you have select best of them.
    Freshwater Pearls

  • Reply November 1, 2013

    panama

    Oh ! I love pearls ! I like black pearls ,It is fashionable I get a pair of pearl studs from stainlesssteeljeweler.com,beautiful and fashion

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