Unlike other gemstones mined from the earth, pearl gemstones are unique as they are produced by living organisms – mollusks. This uniqueness adds to their allure and value. When considering purchasing pearls, it’s essential to understand the various factors that influence their price, the different types of pearls available, and how to care for them. This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about buying pearl gemstones, from understanding their value to making informed purchasing decisions.


The Allure and History of Pearls

Pearls have been cherished for their beauty and rarity since ancient times. In many cultures, pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and status. The Romans, for instance, prized pearls above all other gems, and in ancient China, pearls were believed to protect the wearer from fire and dragons.

Their organic origin further enhances the mystique of pearls. Unlike diamonds or sapphires, pearls are created by living creatures. This natural process of creation adds to their charm and exclusivity.


Types of Pearls

Before diving into the pricing and buying process, it’s crucial to understand the different types of pearls available. The primary categories of pearls include natural pearls, cultured pearls, freshwater pearls, and saltwater pearls. Each type has unique characteristics and value determinants.


Natural Pearls

Natural pearls are formed without any human intervention. They are exceedingly rare and are usually found by chance. Because of their rarity, natural pearls are highly prized and can be extremely expensive. These pearls are typically found in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea.


Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls are created with human assistance. A small bead or piece of tissue is implanted into a mollusk to stimulate the formation of a pearl. Cultured pearls are the most common type of pearls on the market today and are divided into four main categories: Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian, and Freshwater pearls.


Akoya Pearls

Akoya pearls are primarily cultured in Japan and China. They are known for their high luster and classic white or cream color, often with rose, silver, or ivory overtones. Akoya pearls are typically small to medium, ranging from 2mm to 10mm.


South Sea Pearls

South Sea pearls are cultured in the waters of Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. These pearls are known for their large size, ranging from 8mm to over 20mm, and their luxurious satin luster. They come in white, silver, and gold colors.


Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian pearls, often called black pearls, are cultured in French Polynesia. Despite their name, Tahitian pearls come in a variety of colors, including gray, blue, green, and purple. They are known for their dark, exotic appearance and range in size from 8mm to 18mm.


Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are primarily cultured in China and are known for their wide range of shapes and colors. They are typically less expensive than their saltwater counterparts but can be just as beautiful. Freshwater pearls range in size from 2mm to 15mm.


Factors Affecting Pearl Prices

The price of pearls can vary widely based on several factors, including type, size, shape, color, luster, surface quality, and nacre thickness. Understanding these factors will help you make an informed purchasing decision.


Type of Pearl

As mentioned earlier, the type of pearl significantly affects its price. Natural pearls are the most expensive due to their rarity. Among cultured pearls, South Sea and Tahitian pearls are generally more expensive than Akoya and Freshwater pearls due to their larger size and unique colors.



The size of a pearl is one of the most crucial factors in determining its value. Larger pearls are rarer and more valuable than smaller ones. For example, South Sea pearls are often larger than Akoya pearls, contributing to their higher price.



Pearls come in various shapes, including round, near-round, oval, button, drop, and baroque. Round pearls are the most prized and expensive due to their symmetry and rarity. Baroque pearls, which have irregular shapes, can also be highly valued for their unique and artistic appearance.



The color of a pearl can significantly impact its value. While white and cream are classic and widely sought after, pearls also come in shades of black, gray, blue, green, pink, and gold. Some colors are more rare and desirable, particularly natural black Tahitian pearls and golden South Sea pearls.



Luster refers to the quality of light reflection on a pearl’s surface. Pearls with high luster have sharp, bright reflections and are more valuable. Luster is often considered the most important factor in determining a pearl’s beauty and value.


Surface Quality

The presence or absence of blemishes determines the surface quality of a pearl. Pearls with fewer blemishes and a smooth surface are more valuable. Minor blemishes are common and acceptable, but large or numerous blemishes can significantly reduce a pearl’s value.


Nacre Thickness

Nacre is the substance produced by mollusks that forms the layers of a pearl. The thickness of the nacre affects the durability and beauty of a pearl. Pearls with thicker nacre are more durable and have a richer luster. Thin nacre can lead to peeling and dullness over time.


How to Buy Pearls

Buying pearls can be an exciting yet daunting experience, especially for first-time buyers. Here are some steps to guide you through the process:


Determine Your Budget

Before shopping for pearls, it’s important to set a budget. Pearls can range from affordable freshwater varieties to expensive South Sea pearls. Knowing your budget will help you narrow your options and make a more informed decision.


Choose the Type of Pearl

Based on your budget and preferences, decide which type of pearl you want to purchase. Each type has its unique characteristics and price range. For example, Akoya pearls might be the best choice if you want classic, round, white pearls. If you prefer larger, exotic pearls, consider South Sea or Tahitian pearls.


Understand Pearl Grading

Familiarize yourself with the grading systems used for pearls. While there is no universal grading system, many jewelers use their own systems to rate pearls based on luster, surface quality, shape, and other factors. Understanding these grades can help you compare pearls from different sources.


Choose a Reputable Seller

Buy pearls from reputable jewelers or retailers who specialize in pearls. Look for sellers who provide detailed information about their pearls, including origin, type, and grading. Reputable sellers should also offer a certificate of authenticity and a return policy.


Inspect the Pearls

When purchasing pearls, whether in-person or online, carefully inspect them for quality. Look for a high luster, smooth surface, shape, and color. If buying online, ensure the seller provides clear, close-up images of the pearls and detailed descriptions.


Consider the Setting

If you are buying pearl jewelry, consider the setting and design. Pearls are often set in necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings. The metal and design of the setting can enhance the beauty of the pearls. Choose a setting that complements the pearls and fits your personal style.


Caring for Pearls

Pearls are delicate and require proper care to maintain their beauty and luster. Here are some tips for caring for your pearls:


Wear Them Regularly

Pearls benefit from being worn regularly. The natural oils from your skin help maintain their luster. However, be mindful to avoid exposing them to harsh chemicals, such as perfumes, hairsprays, and cleaning agents.


Store Them Properly

Store your pearls separately from other jewelry to prevent scratches. Keep them in a soft cloth or a jewelry box with a soft lining. Avoid storing pearls in airtight containers, as they need some moisture to prevent drying out.


Clean Them Gently

Clean your pearls with a soft, damp cloth after wearing them. Avoid using harsh cleaners or ultrasonic jewelry cleaners. If your pearls become very dirty, you can use a mild soap and water solution. Rinse them thoroughly and dry them with a soft cloth.


Restring Regularly

If you wear a pearl necklace or bracelet frequently, have it restrung periodically by a professional jeweler. Over time, the silk thread used to string pearls can stretch or weaken. Restringing ensures that your pearls remain securely strung and reduces the risk of breakage.


Pearl Buying Tips

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind when buying pearls:


Educate Yourself

Take the time to learn about pearls before making a purchase. Understanding the different types, grading systems, and value factors will help you make a more informed decision and avoid common pitfalls.


Ask Questions

Don’t hesitate to ask the seller questions about the pearls you are considering. A reputable seller should be willing to provide detailed information about the pearls’ origin, type, and grading, as well as care instructions.


Compare Prices

Shop around and compare prices from different sellers. This will give you a better idea of the market value of the pearls you are interested in. Keep in mind that exceptionally low prices may indicate lower quality or imitation pearls.

Buying pearls is a rewarding experience that allows you to own a piece of nature’s beauty. You can make an informed and confident purchase by understanding the different types of pearls, the factors that influence their price, and how to care for them. Whether you are buying pearls for yourself or as a gift, their timeless elegance and charm are sure to be cherished for generations. Remember to buy from reputable sources, inspect the pearls carefully, and provide them with proper care to maintain their beauty and value. Happy pearl shopping!