Picking the Right Pearls

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I am looking a purchasing a pearl necklace for my wife and I was looking at Shane Co. website and they have Akoya pearls and freshwater. I Googled about pearls and found your website.
How do your pearls compare to what I have seen on their website?
What is the difference between saltwater and freshwater pearls beside the price?

I would prefer to buy locally and want my wife to pleased with the gift.

Hi T.,

Thanks so much for reaching out to us! I am going to start creating these blog posts to answer questions because I understand our customers have a lot of decisions to make when it comes to picking the right pearls. Before I begin, I want you to know I do not have any experience with Shane Co. and I do not know the quality of pearls that they sell. Having said that, here is some info on pearls:

Over one hundred years ago when Mikimoto first started culturing pearls, he used a small, saltwater Akoya oyster. These Akoya pearls became the gold standard in cultured pearls, they were pretty, white and because they are nucleated from a round bead, it is easy to make these into round pearls. Basically, all the oyster has to do is layer its pearl making material on this round bead and voila, you have a pearl! The only problem? Having an ocean based operation is expensive and that large cost of production is passed onto the customer. So, Mikimoto decided to try to culture pearls in freshwater. If you can imagine, culturing pearls in a freshwater lake is a lot easier to control than leaving your stock of oysters in the ocean where tides, temperature, weather and widespread bacteria can easily kill your entire operation. Well, the problem with freshwater mollusks is, they do not like to have a bead inserted in their soft tissue. Many mollusks died in the culturing process. Well, the Chinese decided to take over learning this trade and they discovered that if you simply insert a piece of tissue into a mollusk and NOT the round bead, the pearl will grow. But, here is the problem. If you want to create an Akoya pearl that is 7mm in diameter and you insert a 6mm bead into the oyster, it doesn’t take long for the oyster to coat the bead with 1mm of “pearl.” 18 months max. Without a bead, it takes 2-3x  longer to make a freshwater pearl. So, it takes longer to grow a freshwater pearl. Also, without that great round template to work with, that mollusk can form a pearl in any shape. This is why, way back when, freshwater pearls became synonymous with off-sized, non round pearls. Well, times have changed! There are now high quality, round freshwater pearl and they are stunning. However, of the almost billion pearls cultured each year, only the top 5-10% are these top quality pearls. And all the other cultured pearls are sent into the market so you really have to shop around and trust your supplier to know you are getting the top quality pearls!

picking the right pearls - sorting through pearls at a trade show - india rows

Now, Akoya pearls are still being cultured and they are still very lovely. I debated introducing them into our line but when I went to Japan and met with pearl suppliers and they said things to me like, “These are beautiful pearls, great nacre quality, they will last about 8-9 years before they rub off,” I decided this was not a pearl I wanted to carry. Now, there are absolutely stunning akoya pearls on the market and I am a lover of all pearls, I just know that many akoya pearls have such small nacre thickness, they really can barely be called a pearl. As a note, when I say nacre thickness, I mean the amount of pearl that is on top of the mother of pearl bead. It can be less that 1mm thick. I think the current accepted range is .7-.8mm.

Akoya pearls are typically more expensive that freshwater pearls although this is by no means a gold standard. I have seen some extraordinary stunning freshwater pearls that cost a lot more than akoya pearls. But, this cost is due to high production costs.

Finally, since we have a large reknot and repair department at The Pearl Girls, we see pearl strands that have been worn and loved for over 50 years, sometimes over one hundred years. Many strands look great but there are many akoya strands that have worn down to the mother of pearl bead so that the “pearls” at the back of the neck have absolutely zero nacre on them. They simply look like a chalky mother of pearl bead.

And don’t get me started about an akoya ring! Whew, that nacre rubs off fast! I have an example of one we redid for a customer that I will post soon. We just replaced her Akoya “bead” with a freshwater pearl.

picking the right pearls - the pearl girls - india rowsWhat I have learned in working with pearls is that, like most commodities, the price is the price. When shopping for gas, I always go to the gas station that is a few cents cheaper than the other ones but, all in all, I will never find gas that is significantly lower because the price is pretty much the price. I have traveled to large pearl trade shows in hopes of price comparing and if I want to find more affordable pearls then I have to give something up. Maybe the pearls will not be as round or maybe their surface quality is spotted or something else. After trying this for many years, I have learned that prices are prices and you get what you pay for. And pearls are a commodity and like other commodities the price only fluctuates when the entire market fluctuates. Because there are a billion of pearls on the market, you can always pay as little as a few dollars for a strand of unknotted pearls. Unfortunately, they just won’t be the quality of pearls you want to give your wife.

Anyway, I hope this makes sense. Any more questions, feel free to ask and I will answer the best I can! We are so passionate about pearls and we love our pearls so much. We would love to work with you! Happy pearl shopping!



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