Masters of Luster is by Kamala Thiagarajan and was originally printed in Hum Magazine on October 6, 2013.
WITH THEIR LUMINOUS BEAUTY, PEARLS CERTAINLY MAKE THE BEST GIFTS, BUT TO ENSURE THAT YOUR PURCHASE IS AN EXCELLENT INVESTMENT OPTION AS WELL, YOU’LL NEED TO BE WARY OF MARKET REALITIES. HERE’S A GUIDE THAT WILL HELP YOU STEER CLEAR OF POTENTIAL PITFALLS IN YOUR QUEST TO SECURE THE PERFECT PEARLS…
GOING BEYOND GRADING
Experts agree that unfortunately, unlike diamonds, there is no internationally accepted standard grading system for pearls. You may have heard of the AAA-A (where the better the quality of the pearl, the more A’s it acquires) and the A-D system (also called the Tahitian system). “A grading system is only as good as the company that employs it, and what A-AAA means to one (dealer) will be completely different for others. The A-D system was developed and is employed by the government of Tahiti and does follow some loose standards, but those grades are rarely exactly applied by wholesalers and retailers. Reputation of the pearl dealer is much more important than the grade,” says Jeremy Shepherd, pearl expert, CEO and founder ofPearlParadise.com, USA. So how would you ensure that you’re not cheated while purchasing your pearls? “Choose a reputable, trustworthy supplier that you can be open and honest with and who has the knowledge to answer your questions”, says Rows.
BUYING THE BEST
If money is no object and you’re looking for the most expensive variety, opt for Australian South Sea pearls. They’re the Rolls Royce of the pearl industry, says Geoffry Levy, pearl expert and dealer, (www.thepearlexperts.com) “The fewer the spots (or blemishes) a pearl has, the higher its value. However, some marks can add to the uniqueness of a pearl, rather like the birthmarks on a human being.”
The thickness of the nacre (secretions) will eventually determine the luster and durability of your pearl. So how do you judge this when you’re not an expert? “Understanding nacre thickness is very important when buying saltwater pearls,” says Rows. “Because saltwater oysters are nucleated with a shell bead, you want to ensure you are buying more than just that shell bead. The problem is, some pearls have minimal nacre (or pearl material) on top of that bead. One trick to check nacre thickness is blinking. If you turn the pearl or necklace under a light, sometimes you get a glimpse of the shell bead within the pearl. It ‘blinks’. It is almost like the pearl is winking at you. If you can see your pearls ‘blink’, I’d advise avoiding them, because these pearls will last only 7-8 years before the nacre peels or wears off.”
“There are many akoya pearls (originally from Japan, these are the classic white pearls) on the market today that are what we refer to as “short cultured,” says Shepherd. “Instead of leaving the pearls in the shells in the water for one to two seasons, they are harvested after just a few months. The nacre is extremely thin and the pearls will likely peel within a very short amount of time. Often pearls with thin nacre will have a chalky appearance. When held in the light and spun between the fingers, it is also possible to see the lines of the nucleus through the nacre. For lasting durability, South Sea and Tahitian pearls are the best. While these pearls do have a bead implant, the nacre is typically very thick and very strong. Akoya pearls rarely have more than .5 mm of nacre, while Tahitians must have a minimum of .8 mm, and South Sea often have nacre thicker than 2 mm.”
BEWARE OF MIXED NECKLACES
When pearls are strung, there is a possibility of a dealer mixing low-grade pearls with high-grade pearls in hopes of selling at a higher profit. “You can find substantially lower grade pearls near the clasp ends and higher grade pearls near the middle,” says Shepherd. “This is also something professional buyers must watch for.” If you’ve purchased strung pearls from an unknown dealer, you might want to get them appraised by an expert to check if each pearl is of the same quality.
DO’S AND DON’TS
Some Do’s and Don’ts — Handy tips for the purchase and maintenance of pearls.
•Don’t buy pearls on Ebay. In all probability, what you see on screen, isn’t what you’ll eventually get and you’ll be unable to judge the nacre thickness from a screen shot.
•Do wear your pearls often. The best way to maintain your pearls is to wear them, says Kevin Canning. “The natural oils on our skin are good for pearls and help to keep them lustrous. It’s important to follow the old adage “pearls should be the last thing you put on in the morning and the first thing you take off at night”. Apply your makeup, hair spray and perfume before putting your pearls on as the chemicals in these products can damage the nacre of your pearls. Occasionally, its a good idea to give your pearls a gentle cleaning with a damp soft cloth and lay them out to dry. Avoid storing them in dry places like a safety deposit box as this can cause the nacre to dry out and become brittle.”
BY KAMALA THIAGARAJAN
Based in Madurai, South India, Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist with over fifteen years of writing experience. She has contributed to newspapers and magazines all over the globe and has been published extensively in over ten countries. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Reader’s Digest, American Health & Fitness, FirstPost.com, Emirates Woman, The Diplomat, Kuwait this Month, among others. When she doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, this coffee addict loves writing about health, lifestyle and adventure travel. Catch her on twitter at @kamal_t.
I am a modern day treasure hunter who travels the world for gorgeous pearls and amazing adventures. I own a pearl jewelry and jewelry repair business, ThePearlGirls.com, with a cute retail store in Athens, GA. I also have a Pearl Travel business and travel blog at TheWorldofPearl.com.