Buying Pearls – Tricks and Traps

No matter if you’re buying pearls online or when you’re on holiday, there’s always a chance that you may encounter someone that’s trying to rip you off. But don’t worry we’re here to help.  A little bit of know how and a sprinkling of common sense will help you see through any marketing trickery.  I urge you to take a look a our pearls qualities and grading article to get a head start and begin to understand the pearl grading system.

If you know nothing about pearls, don’t feel bad, most people don’t, including the jewellers.  Our aim in this article is to help you understand what you’re buying and will help you avoid any pitfalls you may encounter.

The Grading System

Despite what you may have heard there is no universal system for grading pearls, most sellers will adhere to the A, AA, AAA system.  However, Tahitian pearls may be graded with the A to AAA system, or they might use the A – D system, it just depends on the vendor.

Unfortunately, this system is open to abuse, some less reputable sellers may grade pearls as AAA even though they do not meet the commonly accepted standard to warrant the grade.  There is no Pearl police to stop this sort of activity, but you can avoid such issues when buying Pearl Jewellery by opting to use a reputable retailer such as My Pearls.

Other issues can also occur, for example, definitions like AAAA or AAA+ are used to suggest that the pearls are significantly better quality.  If you see this subtract at least one A or any plus signs in order the get a better idea of the quality.

You may encounter the term ‘gem quality’ use to describe a pearl, this is generally attributed to a pearl with no faults or imperfections.  You’ll only likely see such pearls used in rings, pendants or earrings.  If encountered in necklaces or bracelets the price will likely be huge or the pearls are not true gem quality.

Pearl Necklace
Abusing the Pearl grade System – Winner!

We ran a study a while ago to see find the most over-graded pearl necklace, the winner will likely take some beating to exceed!  The pearl necklace was part of a TV shopping channels line up and it was described as AAAAA.  To be fair, it was a fairly decent piece of jewellery, but was certainly not five A’s worth of Pearl Necklace.

Inaccurate Terminology

Investment Grade: Pearls are beautiful and a make stunning pieces of jewellery, but most are not a good investment and are unlikely to increase significantly in value.  The exception might be pearl jewellery associated with a celebrity or antiques.

Japanese Akoya Pearls: Seeing this description should set of alarm bells for the savvy pearl buyer.  Japan is now the worlds leading and biggest importer of Chinese Akoya pearls, these are then often processed, graded and then exported from Japan.  A pearl necklace which claims it is Japanese Akoya Pearls will undoubtedly contain a significant number of Chinese pearls and it’s impossible to tell the difference, for all intents and purposes they are identical.

Where the pearl originated from, whether that’s Japan or China will have little bearing on the pearl itself.  All pearls are created in largely the same manner are made of the same material which is Calcium Carbonate, the pearls should therefor be judged by other factors such as size, lustre, shape, colour and surface quality and not where the pearls originated from.   If you encounter a jeweller looking to obtain a large price tag for genuine ‘Japanese Pearls’ don’t query where the pearls came from, instead as where the pearls where farmed.

Sometimes pearls may be described as ‘baby South Sea Pearls’ when in fact they are more often that not imported pearls of the freshwater variety.  You’ll often encounter these in the Philippines.

Black Pearls

Black pearls are unlikely to be jet black, instead they will be in a variety of different hues such as green, grey, blue, peacock or aubergine.  However, most will be tinged with Green.  The only naturally occurring black pearls are Tahitian Pearls, which come from French Polynesia, Philippines or Indonesia.

Except for rare occurrences, there are no other black Akoya or Freshwater pearls.  Any black Freshwater or Akoya pearls you may encounter will likely be died or irradiated in order to appear black.  This is not an issue, and they are still beautiful and will not harm the pearls, this will only be an issue if someone is trying to pass these of as Tahitian pearls.


Flaking Nacre
Flaking Nacre

Imagine a white marble which has been coated with a think layer of nail varnish.  When first painted it’ll look good, white, shiny and round.  However, after few weeks or months of use the varnish will be tarnished, there will be chips missing and parts will be flaking off.  This is what may happen nacre covering a pearl bead is not thick enough.

Thin nacre can be an issue and downer with seawater pearls (it’s not an issue with Freshwater are they are normally solid nacre).  A pearl farmer with pressure to deliver pearls quickly may harvest the pearls too soon, when the nacre thickness is less that 0.2mm, which can lead to unwanted wear and tear.

Unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to spot until the damage starts to happen.  But if the pearls arrive and are cracking or flaking around where they’ve been drilled then it’s a good sign that you’re in for problems.


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