With so many different types, sizes, colours and lengths to choose from, finding the pearl necklace that’s right for you can feel overwhelming at first. Consider the following step-by-step guide for choosing a pearl necklace. Everyone’s search is unique, but you may find this to be a helpful starting point.
Pearl Types Used in Strands
First, let’s start with the biggest misconception people have when they first begin their search for the perfect pearl necklace. You will want a strand of cultured pearls rather than natural pearls. Pearl farming, or the practice of inducing pearl oysters to grow pearls, almost completely replaced the natural pearl trade a century ago. Natural pearls do still exist, but a fine strand may cost you more than a million pounds.
There are four basic varieties of cultured pearls commonly available today: Akoya pearls, freshwater pearls, Tahitian pearls and South Sea pearls. Each offers you something different and each can be magnificently beautiful.
Grading Pearl Necklaces
The single most important thing to understand about pearl grading is that no industry-wide recognised standards exist. This means every grading system used by every company and pearl producer is unique and subjective. It is therefore impossible to compare grades and grading systems from one jeweller or producer to another.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is widely recognised as the world’s foremost authority on pearls and it’s their Pearl Grading System that we use. In our view, it’s the most thorough and takes into account all the different factors that affect the quality and therefore value of a pearl. Here’s an explanation of the GIA’s 7 factors that determine the value of a pearl. All must be considered equally when comparing pearls, but more than any other factor, according to the GIA, it is the lustre that will determine its defining characteristic.
Lustre: Lustre is what gives a natural or cultured pearl its unique beauty.
Excellent – Reflections appear bright and sharp.
Very Good – Reflections appear bright and near sharp.
Good – Reflections are bright but not sharp, and slightly hazy around the edges.
Fair – Reflections are weak and blurred.
Poor – Reflections are dim and diffused.
Within a pearl type, when other value factors are equal, the higher the lustre, the more valuable the pearl.
Size: When other value factors are equal, larger pearls are rarer and more valuable than smaller pearls of the same type.
Shape: Round is the most difficult shape to culture, making it the rarest cultured pearl shape and, if all other factors are equal, also generally the most valuable.
There are exceptions, though. Well-formed pear, oval, or baroque (irregularly shaped) cultured pearls are also prized by pearl lovers.
Colour: Natural and cultured pearls occur in a broad range of hues. There are warm hues like yellow, orange, and pink, and cool hues like blue, green, and violet. Pearls have a wide range of tones from light to dark. Pearl colours tend to be muted, with a soft, subtle quality.
Pearl colour can have three components. Bodycolour is the pearl’s dominant overall colour. Overtone is one or more translucent colours that lie over a pearl’s bodycolour. And orient is a shimmer of iridescent rainbow colours on or just below a pearl’s surface. All pearls display bodycolour, but only some show overtone, orient, or both.
The law of supply and demand determines the value of certain pearl colours at any given time. If supplies of high-quality pearls displaying a preferred colour are low, their prices can rise to unusually high levels. Other complex factors, like fashion trends and cultural traditions, can influence colour preferences.
Surface quality: Like coloured stones, most pearls never achieve perfection. Some might show abrasions that look like a series of scratches on the surface, or a flattened section that doesn’t affect its basic shape, or an irregular ridge that looks like a crease or wrinkle.
If surface characteristics are numerous or severe, they can affect the durability of the pearl and severely decrease 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.
Nacre quality: Lustre 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 lustre as well as the durability of the pearl.
Matching: Jewellery designers sometimes deliberately mix colours, shapes, and sizes for unique effects, but for most pearl strands, earrings, or other multiple-pearl jewellery, the pearls should match in all the quality factors.
Choosing the Right Pearl Size
Pearl size is one of the key factors affecting the price and also one of the first things to be noticed.
Before we go any further, you should know that the most popular, classic and versatile pearl necklaces are in the 7 to 8mm size range. It is widely acknowledged to be the “go-anywhere” size, perfect for nights out, office wear or even a quick trip to the grocery store in a T-shirt and jeans. This size range is also age-appropriate for ladies from 16 years old up through women in their 50’s, so these are necklaces that will be worn and enjoyed for many, many years.
7-8mm pearl necklaces: As mentioned, the 7-8mm size range is basically “The Classic Pearl Necklace”, you really can’t go wrong here. This size is very elegant and looks great whether you’re at the office, shopping at the store, going out to dinner, special occasions, basically this size goes anywhere and everywhere.
8-9mm pearl necklaces: The 8-9mm pearl size range is the beginning of luxury pearl territory. These pearls will have a nice “heft” to them, and look a tad larger than average for an elegant and glamorous presentation. It is most commonly worn by women 30 years old and up.
9-10mm pearl necklaces: The 9-10mm is on the higher end for large Freshwater pearls. This size range is luxurious in both presentation and feel. A perfectly matched necklace of 9-10mm pearls is a visually stunning strand of pearls that commands attention, yet can still be worn to both day and evening events.
10-11mm pearl necklaces: The 10-11mm size range consists of large Freshwater Pearls. Freshwater pearls will be fairly uniform in shape and size, graduating from 10-11mm. These larger pearl sizes are very luxurious and very glamorous.
A lustrous 10-11mm pearl strand will be your statement piece, and thanks to its spectacular size, will instantly add a refined glow to create an elegant look, making it the perfect choice for sophisticated occasions such as a cocktail party.
So what size should you choose when buying pearl necklace? As a matter of fact, it all depends on your personal preference. Generally speaking, small pearls are more affordable. They usually give off a dainty feel if you prefer a more classic style. Large pearls, on the other hand, can be more contemporary, creating a luxurious and refined look. Pearls above 9mm are both extremely rare and expensive, not only because they are hard to find, but also because it is hard to match pearls of this size to create a cohesive necklace.
Choosing the Right Length
First, let’s learn how and where different necklace lengths fall on your body. Necklace chains for women typically range from 10 to 48 inches and anywhere in between. The following are the most commonly sold necklace lengths and where they fall on the average female body:
16″: A 16″ necklace wraps loosely around the neck. This is the ideal length for petite frames and is one of the most common women’s necklace lengths. Sixteen-inch necklaces are sometimes referred to as Chokers, chains, lockets, or strands.
18″: 18″ necklaces sit at the collarbone. Even though they are longer than typical collars or chokers, they will still appear to sit quite close to the neck. Pendants attached to 18″ necklaces will typically lie above the breastbone. They are the most common necklace length and are often referred to as Princess necklaces.
20″: If you want a necklace that sits just below the collarbone, but above the neckline, consider a 20″ necklace. This length is common for many chains, strands, and lockets. 20″ necklaces are also known as a Matinee.
Women in their 20s often start their collection with shorter strands and smaller pearls which nestle near the base of the throat. Consider the Choker and Princess lengths to optimize your youthful fashion look.
Women in their 30s and beyond may prefer the fashion impact of longer lengths of pearl necklaces and larger pearls, which add drama while beautifully illuminating the face. Try Princess and Matinee lengths, add drama while beautifully illuminating your face.
If in doubt, use this simple guideline: longer strands of bigger pearls make a more dramatic fashion statement; shorter strands, while classic and elegant, can easily be dressed “up” or “down” for casual events. So if your occasion is more relaxed, go shorter, or sophisticated, go longer.
Still can’t decide? Opt for the mid-length Princess strand, which flatters every lifestyle and body type.
You’ve now got a very basic working knowledge of the pearl necklace world. If you have any questions, always feel free to email us – we are always happy to help out.