Pearl prices can vary tremendously. Ranging from maybe 10 dollars per strand, to astronomical amounts of hundreds of thousands of dollars for one single pearl… What exactly causes these extreme price differences? Which pearl quality factors determine pearl prices?
Pearl quality factors: The sum of quality + rarity = exclusivity
Pearl quality: Like many things, it all comes down to quality and rarity. There are many new cars on the market, but a new Ferrari will always cost you more than a new Toyota saloon. Also, a new Chrysler van will cost more than an old one. But an old classic Bentley will out do a brand new Ford family car price-wise for sure. And a small Vauxhall will be cheaper than a huge Mercedes. In a nutshell: Size matters and high quality + rarity means limited availability. When something is hard to obtain, it almost always becomes exclusive and sought-after. And with pearls it’s no different: all pearl quality factors combined, determine the price.
The 7 pearl quality factors
The price of pearls is determined by 6 main pearl quality factors and a 7th additional feature which can add value:
- Surface quality
- Nacre quality…and additionally
- Two or more matching pearls
Now, let’s discuss each pearl quality factor in more detail:
1. Pearl size
This one might speak for itself, but still it is important enough to mention specifically. When all other value factors are equal, the bigger the pearl will always be more valuable than the smaller one. And when it comes to pearls, the price literally increases by the millimetre! The bigger the pearl, the bigger the rarity.
2. Shape of a pearl
Pearls can occur in any shape imaginable. But of all shapes, throughout history round pearls have always been most coveted. And this still remains the same today. Because of this consumer’s demand, plus the fact that round is the most difficult shape to culture, perfectly round pearls are generally the most valuable and can fetch a premium when sold. (Assuming all other pearl quality factors are equal of course.) This said, it should also be mentioned that extremely well formed drop-shaped, oval and baroque pearls are also highly valued.
Zylana freshwater pearls in different shapes and sizes
3. Pearl colour
When people ask us the question “Can pearls have any other colour than white?”, our answer will always be: “Every single hue you can distinguish in the mother of pearl of the shell in which the pearl is formed, is a potential pearl colour.”
The factor “colour” in pearl grading can be broken down in to three components:
- 3a. Body colour – The overall, dominant colour of the pearl. The body colour should have a good saturation and should be evenly distributed.
- 3b. Overtone – An extra shimmer of colour which lies “over” the pearl’s body colour. A pearl can have more than one overtone and can add great value to a pearl.
- 3c. Orient – The almost “oily” iridescent play of colour that can be seen on (or sometimes seemingly just below) a pearl’s surface. A good orient is a sought-after feature.
Every pearl has a body colour, but not every pearl displays an attractive overtone or ditto orient, let alone both. Needless to say probably but the higher the quality of these three colour components, the rarer the pearl and higher it’s value will be. And when it comes to pearl colour, fashion trends play a big role. The more popular a colour is, the higher the demand for that colour will be. This obviously will affect the price greatly.
A handful of Zylana pearls. All of them with natural colours.
4. Pearl luster
The term “luster” refers to the gloss (the reflection) of the surface of a pearl. It is a really important pearl quality factor, as the luster can make or break a pearl’s beauty! Top luster means that a pearl has distinct, sharp and bright reflections. Obviously, the higher the luster, the higher the value.
The quality of the luster is indicated as follows:
- Excellent ( sharp, distinct and bright reflections)
- Good (bright reflections but not as sharp as with excellent luster, reflections are slightly hazy)
- Fair (weak reflection, reflections are blurred/hazy)
- Poor (very weak reflections, reflections are diffused/dim)
Zylana baroque pearls with excellent luster
5. Surface quality
Perfect pearls also have a perfect, unblemished surface. But as with many things, perfection in pearls is rare and the majority of pearls that are available on the market are not “blemish free”, as it is called. Although some would consider the presence of imperfections to be a signature of their natural origin, in general blemish free pearls are more valuable than pearls with an imperfect surface.
Pearls often show abrasions like scratches or dimples on its surface. But also irregular ridges that look like creases or “rings” surrounding a pearl. And as can be expected, the more blemishes present on a pearl’s surface, the bigger the devaluating effect.
How severely blemishes will affect the price of an individual pearl also depends on the number of imperfections present, as well as how they are located on the pearl. When negative surface characteristics are distributed in such a way that they can be hidden by a drill-hole or mounting, their effect on the price will be not as great as when blemishes are numerously present and/or can’t be camouflaged when set in jewellery.
6. Nacre quality
The thicker the layer of nacre surrounding the pearl, the higher the value will be, assuming all other pearl quality factors are equal.
Thin nacre greatly affects the beauty of a pearl. It can result in giving the pearl a chalky or dull appearance or even show the nucleus the nacre surrounds. Also, thin nacre can affect both the luster and the durability of a pearl in a negative way.
7. Two or more matching pearls
Pearls are a product of nature and finding two or more pearls that are similar in all six of the previously mentioned pearl quality factors can be quite a feat. So a perfectly matched pair or set of pearls is worth more than the combined value of each individual pearl.
A Zylana pearl jewellery set, handmade out of 18 ct. rose gold & three matching drop shaped freshwater pearls