How to shop for pearls

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What do you need to know before buying pearls? Helena Krodel of the Jewelry Information Center shows you how to judge their quality before you shop for pearls.

How to shop for pearls Whether you're buying pearls on a budget or looking for the most exotic, Helena explains the differences in pearls and what makes some more rare and valuable than others.

  • Natural pearls are very rare; most pearls today are cultured and they're considered real pearls.
  • Freshwater pearls are the most common and therefore the most affordable. A 100-inch strand of freshwater pearls costs about $100.
  • Akoya pearls, cultured in Japan, are slightly more expensive than freshwater pearls because they are larger and have more luster. Luster is that iridescent glow that seems to come from within a pearl.
  • On the other end of the price spectrum, a 16-18 inch strand of large, golden South Seas pearls costs about $30,000. And a necklace of large Tahitian pearls with a diamond clasp goes for $90,000!
  • Tahitian pearls are big, beautiful grayish-brown and green pearls. Oyster trivia: Tahitian pearls are darker because they come from an oyster with dark, blackish lips.
  • Baroque pearls, which are not round and have a golden pinkish or bluish tone, are very stylish right now.

Tips on buying pearls:
  • Pearls should have an unflawed surface, without nicks or scratches.
  • Pearls should never be chalky or dull.
  • Shop at a reputable jeweler -- make sure you're dealing with someone you trust.
  • It's important to get an itemized receipt, so you can exchange your purchase if you decide you don't want it.
  • You can buy a strand of graduated pearls if you prefer your necklace to lie flat on your neck.
Transcript EILEEN: Hi, I’m Eileen Wu for howdini.com. Shopping for pearls can be tricky. There’s a lot you need to know and to help us figure out what we need to know is expert Helena Krodell from the Jewelry Information Center. Hi Helena.

HELENA: Hi. How are you?

EILEEN:Great. I’m loving these pearls. They are so beautiful. Are they real or are they cultured?

HELENA: Yes. Cultured pearls are real pearls and the fact is that very, very few pearls today are natural. So by human intervention we have all these beautiful, cultured pearls, which in fact are real.

EILEEN:There are so many different types here.

HELENA: Yes, I brought a few different varieties. Now, the most common is the freshwater pearl. These are the most common and the most affordable. So, the reason why they are affordable is because they form in abundance. And they are actually from China; most freshwaters do come from China today. This is 100 inches if it was unwrapped and it’s about $100, so it’s very affordable. And then, right next to it I did bring some Akoya pearls. These are from Japan. They are a little bit bigger and they do grow a little bit larger in size and they do have better luster which makes them a tiny bit more expensive.

EILEEN: And what do you mean my luster?

HELENA: Luster is the inherent glow that comes from within a pearl and that’s why we love them and that’s a result of the knacker. A knacker is what actually forms over the center of the little irritant which makes the pearl.

EILEEN: Okay, well are these Akoyas as well?

HELENA: Yes these are also Akoyas and as you can see these just have that inherent glow from within. They’re absolutely beautiful, double strand. And then to it I brought two different kinds of South Sea pearls. This is a strand of South Seas that are creamy white. They graduate in size which makes them lay flat against the neck; it’s just a preference quite frankly. And next to it we have a strand of Tahitians. Tahitian pearls are these big, beautiful grayish-brown, sometimes green…and those come from an oyster that has black or darker lips. So it yields a darker pearl.

EILEEN: Helena, that strand of pearls you’re wearing is gorgeous. Can you tell me a little about them?

HELENA: Sure, this is a strand of South Sea pearls that are golden. It is a very rare color and especially in this size.

EILEEN: So how much would that cost?

HELENA: This strand of pearls is about 16-18 inches and it’s about $30,000 which is on the higher end of the scale for pearls.

EILEEN: Helena, those are gorgeous. And I am dying to know more about the strand you let me borrow today.

HELENA: That is a strand of Baroque pearls and the reason why those are interesting is because obviously they are not round which is usually how we characterize a beautiful, precious pearl. However, they have a wonderful luster: they have this golden, pinkish, or even blue tone which makes them even more desirable.

EILEEN:And how rare are these?

HELENA: Well, they’re not quite as rare like something that I’m wearing, but they are rare because they are quite big and also because they are coming back into vogue and a lot of people are interested in buying them once again.

EILEEN: Ok now I’m dying to know which strand of these pearls are the most expensive.

HELENA: Ok, well these are the biggest and they are the best, well some say. They’re $90,000 and they have a gorgeous clasp that’s made of diamonds on them. South Sea Treasures was nice enough to lend them to us. But, honestly it’s really truly about preference. Some people like the look of this and some people like the look of white. So, if you can afford it, go for the big ones, but if you have the means for freshwater—they’re great too.

EILEEN:Now if I’m looking to buy a strand of pearls and I don’t want to be ripped off, what tips do you have for me?

HELENA: Well, again, go to a reputable jeweler, make sure you are shopping with someone you trust, get an itemized receipt. That’s more of the most important things that way if you are not happy with them you can bring them back and you can exchange them for something that makes you happy.

EILEEN:Alright, well thank you so much Helena for joining us today.

HELENA: Thank you.

EILEEN: I’m Eileen Wu for howdini.com
meet theexpert
  • Helena Krodel

    Helena Krodel Jewelry Information Center Helena Krodel's the Associate Director for Media and Spokesperson for Jewelry Information Center, the public relations arm of fine jewelry and watch industries. A non-profit trade association in NYC, JIC is the objective authority on fine jewelry/watches.
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