Pearl Selection & Care

What You Should Know
About Cultured Pearls


Before you purchase your cultured pearl jewelry, you need to be as informed as possible. The types and values of pearls vary immensely, as do the factors contributing to these differences.

A cultured pearl is formed by an oyster, composed of concentric layers of a crystalline substance called nacre deposited around an irritant placed in the oyster's body by man. Natural pearls are formed by deposits of nacre around an irritant which accidentally lodges within the body of an oyster. Anything else which resembles a pearl but has a surface created by a manufacturing process is an imitation or simulated pearl--and must be labeled as such!

The value of a pearl comes from the unique ability of the crystalline nacre to absorb, refract, and reflect light, imparting a distinctive quality, termed orient, to natural and cultured pearls. Orient is the deep inner glow and shimmering iridescent characteristic of sea-grown pearls. The deeper the lustre and iridescence, the more precious the pearl.


Size contributes to the price of a pearl. As it is more difficult for oysters to grow large pearls, they are scarcer. But two pearls of different sizes may be valued the same if the smaller pearl is superior in orient to the larger.

Shape determines value, too. The more symmetrical the shape, the more valuable. Examples of symmetrical pearls are: round, pear shape, tear shape, and oval. Pearls of irregular and asymmetrical shape are termed baroque. Oysters grow pearls in many different shapes, from perfect spheres to long flat angel wing pearls.

Surface perfection also contributes to value. The surface of a perfect pearl appears satiny smooth. But when viewed closely, natural or cultured pearls may appear to have irregular surfaces which do not detract from value, as do disfiguring blemishes. You need no magnifier to detect blemishes; when present, they are readily apparent to the naked eye.

Rarity increases the value of any jewel. Cultured pearls themselves are relatively rare, as they can only be grown in limited areas of the world's oceans and take years to grow. A perfect pair of pearls are very rare, because nature makes few pearls exactly alike in orient, shape, size, and color.