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How to buy Pearls

How do I choose a strand of pearls? What do pearls cost? Do pearls really come in different colors? Why do some pearls cost more than others? Most people consider pearls somewhat mysterious. But really, they aren't mysterious at all when you understand the quality factors that affect the value of cultured pearls. The following guidelines will help you choose the perfect pearl jewelry.

Who will wear it?

The first consideration should be the person wearing the pearl jewelry. What is her age? Is she formal or casual? Avant garde or classic? Will a man be wearing the jewelry? Pearl jewelry suits all personalities. The most popular pearl jewels for women are pearl earrings, necklaces, rings, brooches and bracelets. Men prefer cuff links, studs, and lapel pins. People with warm coloring usually prefer pearls with a cream color while people with cool coloring prefer white-based pearls. Fancy colored pearls are flattering to everyone. 


Luster is the most important factor in choosing pearls. The inner glow of the pearl combined with the surface brilliance defines luster. The higher the luster, the thicker the nacre or secretion from the oyster and the stronger the glow. You should be able to see your reflections clearly on the surface of a pearl. Lower quality cultured pearls appear too white, dull or chalky.


The smoothness of the pearl's surface, from clean to heavily blemished, is the next consideration. Cracks or breaks in the nacre are considered damage and can contribute to the deterioration of the pearl. Because pearls are grown in an oyster and are organic gems they are almost never flawless. The gem-quality pearl may have minute blemishes when examined very closely, but they are not noticeable at arm's length. 


Similarly, it is very rare to find a perfectly round pearl. The rounder the pearl, however, the more valuable it is. Slightly off-round, semi- baroque and baroque pearls that are not as perfectly round can be lustrous and appealing and often cost less than rounder cultured pearls.


Cultured pearls range in color from white to black with various multi-colored overtones. The color of the pearl is really the wearer's preference. White pearls with rose overtones or silver-white pearls look better on women with cool coloring while cream and golden pearls are flattering on those with warm complexions. More unusual colors such as blue-grays, strong golden yellows, and pinkish-silvers are sought by pearl lovers who own strands in several colors.


Cultured pearls are measured in millimeters. Pearls range in size from smaller than one millimeter, called seed pearls, to larger than 20 millimeters for large cultured South Sea pearls. All other factors being equal, the larger the pearl the rarer and more valuable it is. The average size pearl sold today is 7 to 7.5 millimeters.


When two or more pearls are used for earrings, rings or a necklace the quality of the matching adds to the value of the jewelry. Obviously, it is desirable for the pearls to appear as identical as possible. Matching includes the luster, size, shape, base-color, overtones, and surface.

Types of Pearls

Oriental Pearls

Natural pearls found in the Persian Gulf. One of a kind oyster called the Wing Shell Oyster. Any natural pearl found in the West Asia area: The Red Sea; The Persian Gulf; The Gulf of Mannar; the west coast of Sri Lanka.

Akoya Pearls

Salt water pearls from the Akoya oyster. Typically very round. There prices are base on their roundness and discounted as they get less round. They are colored light pink to white to yellowish. Also known as Japanese pearls.  If they are less than 7mm, they are from China.

Biwa Pearls

Freshwater pearls which are cultivated in Japans largest lake, Lake Biwa 

South Sea Pearls

Large white saltwater pearls found in Burma, Indonesia, Australia or French Polynesia.

Black Pearls

Pearls found in the Black Lipped Oyster. Color is inherent characteristic or the nacre.

Blue Pearls

Found in either Akoya Oysters or Silver Lip Oysters. Color is due to contaminants in the nacre or between the nacre and the pearl bead nucleus.

Mother of Pearl

The lining of the oyster's shell.

Half Pearls*

Pearls sawed in half to remove blemishes.

Blister Pearls*

Natural or cultured. Grown attached to the oyster's shell and cut from the shell. (Tennessee is major producer called DOMÃ?Æ?Ã?â??Ã?â? Ã¢â?¬â?¢Ã?Æ?Ã?¢Ã?¢ââ?¬Å¡Ã?¬Ã?â??Ã?°)

Mabe Pearks*

Half a bead nucleus (soapstone) is attached to oyster. When finish, pearl is removed and filled with wax.

*Difficult to distinguish among these three. They are inexpensive and several can grow inside one oyster.

Seed Pearls

Small, natural pearls measuring 2mm or less.

Dust Pearls

Less than .01ct. Too small for jewelry use.

Keshi Pearls

Keshi means poppy seed in Japanese. Pearls are accidentally grown in oyster, the are spontaneously formed without nuclei in South Sea Oysters. They can grow quite large.

Mikimoto Pearls

Akoya Pearls that Mikimoto produces.