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Pearls! The Value Characteristics, Part II

Image courtesy of CPAA

In the last post, I shared about 3 of the 7 Value Factors used by GIA when assessing and grading freshwater cultured pearls: Luster, Shape, and Size. In this post, we are going to dive into the remaining 4 Factors: Nacre, Surface, Color, and Matching.


Nacre is the iridescent material pearls are made of. It is composed of a multitude of layers of hexagonal platelets of a substance called aragonite, which is a form of calcium carbonate. This process takes from 2-7 years, depending on the size of pearls desired and the beads used for nucleation. Nacre is super strong and resilient, and the build-up and quality of layers is what gives pearls that deep luminous appearance. The thicker the nacre coating, the more lustrous and durable the pearl, and that is what we want. You can tell if a pearl has thin nacre by gently rolling a strand under a light. If pearls seem to “go dark” at certain points on the pearl, it is called “blinking.” This can indicate the nacre is thinner in these areas and you might be seeing the light play over the pearl’s seed inside. While pearls with an acceptable coating of nacre may occasionally have slight blinking, it should be minimal. If you see actual striations or dark patches from the seed underneath, go ahead and take a “hard pass” on those pearls. Another nacre characteristic to pass on would be a “chalky appearance.” These pearls have thin nacre layers that did not develop that rich lustrous sheen that gives pearls their beauty. They are typically dull and whitish. They are also not known to be as durable as their more brilliant counterparts.

Image courtesy of CPAA


Aside from their beaded centre, freshwater pearls are solid nacre, which means they are more likely to have inconsistencies, such as tiny pits, or rings. While these “blemishes” or “Nature’s Kisses” do not necessarily detract from a pearl’s beauty and value, a cleaner or more “perfect” surface is often desired. Slight Kisses do show that the pearls are real, organic creations, and each one is a unique work of art. Freshwater pearls are a bit notorious for one particular blemish, which is a dull or chalky spot on the surface. This can be from the formation process or from the processing to prepare the pearl for sale. Tiny, nearly imperceptible spots, pits, bumps, or rings can be found on acceptable pearls and can lend a bit of character. If the number of blemishes is high, though, the value decreases, and usually so does the beauty. I work with pearls that have blemishing on 3% or less of the pearl’s total surface, so if there are blemishes, they are minute and do not detract from the loveliness of the piece.

Image courtesy of CPAA


There is an entire rainbow of color options when it comes to freshwater pearls, making them extremely versatile and your imagination can simply run wild. With that being said, whites, soft shades of pastel lavenders, peachy oranges, and gentle pinks are the most common. Greens, green-golds, and bronzes occur but are much rarer. You have the basic tone of the color, and a lot of pearls have flashes or hints of a second or even third color over the surface called an “overtone,” that adds yet another dimension to the beauty of these gems. There are also a wide array of dyed colors available, from cranberry to teal to chocolate and black. These are considered less valuable than their naturally occurring counterparts, as there is more human-intervention in the process. I’ll go more in-depth about processing and dyeing in another post later on. Overall, though, color is a personal preference, and you truly cannot beat the variety of options available with freshwater pearls.

Image courtesy of CPAA


This last Factor is more easily achieved with freshwater pearls more quickly simply due to the number of freshwater pearls produced in contrast to some of their saltwater cousins. Some freshwater mollusks can create up to 50 pearls at a go, but most farms hold these numbers down to 20-30ish to encourage better quality pearls and less stress on the mollusks. Saltwater mollusks tend to do best in the lower single digits, and there is a lot more that can go “wrong” during growth (poisonous algae, tropical storm damage, climate issues having an impact on water temperatures and nutrient levels, toxicity, etc). Freshwater farms are generally better protected, so some of these issues can be managed more easily. With larger numbers of pearls available, it is an easier (but still often time-consuming process) to match pearls by shape, size, color(including tone and overtone), and quality level. I receive my pearls in what are considered "matched strands," meaning that the pearls have been matched to each other within a relative closeness. I then break these down and personally match up pearls for each pair of earrings and each necklace to ensure they are as uniform and appealing as possible to give you the loveliest accessories around.

I hope this helps you feel more confident when shopping for freshwater pearls. These lovely gems bring great joy, and the shopping for them should, as well.

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