Sizes, Shapes and Colors of Pearls, Oh My!

pearlsLet me start this post with the title, when you are reading it, I want you to think of the Wizard of Oz, because that is what I was thinking about. Instead of Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My it’s Sizes, Shapes and Colors of Pearls, Oh My. I admit, it sounds much better in my head, but when it comes to the sizes, shapes and colors of pearls it can get confusing, especially if you are buying them online.

I have already written a primer on how to tell if you have a good pearl, and I am very excited to be getting a copy of The Pearl Book by Antoinette Matlins, which I promise to read cover to cover, and might even have an extra one for our readers (fingers crossed) as well as a post from Antoinette coming soon (second set of fingers crossed) as she is truly one of the leading experts in gems and estate jewelry.  In the meantime, I am going to try to help you to understand the difference in the sizes, shapes and colors of pearls.

PearlsThey Size Matters, Even in Pearls

  • Pearls are sized in millimeters, from 2 mm – 20 mm.  The smaller the millimeters the less expensive the pearls and the smaller the millimeters the smaller the pearls.
  • 3 – 5 mm pearls are small and delicate. These are traditionally Akoya and Freshwater.
  • 5 – 6 mm pearls are the most available and common size. They are the most reasonably priced as well. These are the pearls that are usually double or triple strands and they are traditionally Akoya and Freshwater.
  • 6 – 7 mm pearls are also readily available and a common size.  They are a bit more luxurious but still affordable and are generally worn everyday, they are also Akoya and Freshwater.
  • 7 – 8 mm pearls are 40% larger than the 6 – 7 mm pearls, so they can be worn a bit more formally, yet they can still be worn everyday. They look more substantial and they are higher priced because they are harder to find.  These are traditionally Akoya and Freshwater.
  • 8 mm and above is considered high end for pearls and you pay for these, just like in diamonds. The larger the pearl the more money you will pay.  South Sea and Tahitian pearls are generally the larger pearls.
  • Just to give you an example, a 9 mm pearl is a little over ¼” and a 15 mm pearl is ½”.

near round pearlsEven pearls Have Shapes

  • Round – This is the most desirable shape for a cultured pearl and the most expensive. These would be graded AAAA and sometimes AAA.  Think high-grade Akoya.
  • Near Round – To the untrained eye they have the appearance of perfectly round pearls but are considerably cheaper. This includes most Freshwater.
  • Button – Symmetrical pearls that appear to be flattened or squashed to some degree. This shape of pearl is not that common except for Freshwater where a round nucleus is not used.
  • Drop – Symmetrical in shape but have a tear drop shape most often used in pendants and earrings.
  • Baroque – Have a definitive shape, except for the fact that they are non-symmetrical or irregular in shape. Baroque pearls can range from off round circle pearls to stick or cross shapes.
  • Circle – Baroque pearls that have visible “circles” or “rings” around the diameter of the pearl. Most common in Tahitian and South Sea.

Color of pearlsPearls and a Palette of Colors

  • Pearls are available in just about every color that you can imagine, ranging from white, yellow, golden, pink, blue, black, lavender, multicolor and just about any color you can think of in between, although the most common color for a pearl is silver-white and the most rare is black.
  • When referring to the color of the pearl, it is the body of the pearl that is considered to be the primary shade and color overtones reflect across the surface of the pearl, so the pearl might be silver-white with pink overtones.
  • Orient is a coloring effect that is shimmering or iridescent colors that move and glitter and the light changes or the pearl is moved.  This is caused the by the reflection of the light throughout the layers of the nacre.
  • As the pearl is being the formed, the color is being produced and although the color doesn’t really impact the quality of the pearl it can impact the value of.
  • When buying pearls, the color should be matched next to your skin tone and should appear warm next to your skin.
  • Akoya pearls are classic white pearls with overtones of rose, cream and silver.
  • Freshwater pearls produce the widest array of colors and shapes.
  • South Sea cultured pearls fall into two categories, white or golden. White South Sea pearls have a white body color with overtones of rose and silver that give them a very silky appearance. Golden South Sea pearls will vary from very light champagne to rich golden body colors, with darker colors demanding a higher price.
  • Tahitian pearls are the only naturally dark cultured pearls, and most often Tahitian pearls have body colors of silver, grey and green with overtones ranging from pink to dark green.

As my obsession with pearls continues, I can’t wait to get my book from Antoinette.  Until then, I am going to delve into my next round of pearl research…. maybe seeds found under the sea…

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Sergio About Sergio

Sergio Nuncio has been a diamond and watch buyer for over 20 years. He loves valuating fine estate jewelry, diamonds, watches and gold. When Sergio isn't working with diamonds, he is working on his salt water aquarium, fishing or spending time with his wife and children.

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