Everything You NEED to Know BEFORE Buying Pearls Online

January 8, 2018 by Kiesha Joseph

Everyone knows that pearls are gems of the sea. However, when it comes to understanding the value of a pearl or buying pearl jewelry, that’s about all most people know. But, it takes more than that to make an educated decision when buying pearls online.

They may know pearls come from oysters, but have no idea how they’re formed. Its obvious pearls come in different sizes and colors, but are there various types too? We can answer that for you. Just think of this as a quick guide to buying pearls from an online store.

Everything you need to know about buying pearls

What are Cultured Pearls VS Natural Pearls?

The first thing you need to know is the difference between real pearls and fake pearls. Also called faux pearls, these fake versions are generally made of plastic, glass or some other manmade material.

Both cultured pearls and natural pearls are 100% real gems. The difference between the two is based on how “naturally” they were created. Remember that when buying pearls online.

How is a Natural Pearl Created?

As an oyster floats around in the sea, an irritant may accidentally get inside of its mussel’s soft tissue. In response, a defense mechanism is launched. This causes the oyster to secrete a coating around the irritant known as nacre. It secretes layer upon layer of nacre until a natural pearl is created.

How is a Cultured Pearl Created?

Cultured pearls are created using the same process. However, there are two main differences:

  • Born on cultured pearl farms vs in the sea
  • Irritants are inserted inside the oyster purposely by pearl farmers

Pearl farmers insert shell bead nuclei inside the oysters using a very tedious, fragile process. This acts as an irritant and activates the oyster’s defense mechanism and the creation of layers of nacre. After a lot of care and nurturing, cultured pearls are born!

Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls
Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls. Image Source: vijay-hemmadi/LinkedIn

Cost Benefits of Buying Cultured Pearls VS Natural Pearls

Let’s face it. There’s no way to “make” an oyster produce a pearl in the ocean. But, using the pearl farming process, the gem-creation process is sparked. This makes it easier to manage the production of pearls, as well as market prices.

These days, it’s almost impossible to find natural pearls in the oceans and seas. Oyster divers risk their lives looking for the sea creatures, hoping to strike it big. But, the fact is… there just aren’t many natural pearls being created anymore thanks to pollution and pearl divers.

With cultured pearl farming, the gems are created in secure, nurturing environments. So, the oysters have greater chances of surviving and producing high-quality gemstones.

Freshwater cultured pearl grading
Freshwater cultured pearl grading. Image Source: China Dialogue

These days, cultured pearl jewelry comes in many different styles and can be found online. Natural pearl jewelry is extremely rare. If you find it, the piece is more than likely vintage. And, you probably won’t find them in ordinary online pearl jewelry stores.

Either way, natural pearls are going to be much more expensive the cultured pearls.

5 Different Types of Cultured Pearls

In today’s online retail market, all real pearls and real pearl jewelry sold are cultured pearls, unless they are specifically marked “natural pearls.” There are five main types of cultured pearl jewelry sold online in 2018:

Knowing some of the differences between the five will help you understand each one’s value better. That way, you know what you’re purchasing BEFORE buying pearls online.

1. Cultured Akoya Pearls

Shop for Japanese Akoya White Pearl Set
Click Here for Japanese Akoya White Pearl Set from The Pearl Source.

If you’re looking for perfectly round white pearls, these are the ones. Akoya pearls are the classic gems we’re used to seeing on single strands of pearls. They come with the highest luster and shine of all the cultured pearls on the market.

  • Natural Colors: Cream, White
  • Sizes: 5 mm to 11 mm
  • Parent: Pinctada Fucata Mollusk

2. Cultured Hanadama Pearls

Hanadama Akoya Pearl Necklace from The Pearl Source
Hanadama Akoya Pearl Necklace from The Pearl Source

Hanadama pearls are commonly referred to as The Ferraris of the pearl world. They are actually cultured Akoya pearls that have been certified by the Pearl Science Laboratory (PSL) of Japan to carry the name. Cultured Hanadama gemstones feature the highest pearl luster of all cultured pearls on the market.

  • Natural Colors: Silver, Blue
  • Sizes: 7 mm to 10 mm
  • Parent: Pinctada Fucata Mollusk

3. Cultured Freshwater Pearls

Click Here for 14K Gold 7mm Multicolor Freshwater Pearl Beaded Bangle Rita Bracelet from The Pearl Source
Click Here for 14K Gold 7mm Multicolor Freshwater Pearl Beaded Bangle Rita Bracelet from The Pearl Source

Freshwater pearls emerged as the new rivals to Akoya pearls back in the 1990s. They also come in the form of round, white gems, much like Akoya pearls. However, the Freshwater pearl jewelry offers the widest selections in pearl colors, shapes and sizes than any other cultured type.

  • Natural Colors: Cream, White
  • Sizes: 2 mm to 15 mm
  • Parent: Hyriopsis Cumingii or Hybrid Mollusk

4. Cultured South Sea Pearls

Yellow Gold & Diamond South Sea Bangle Pearl Bracelet
Yellow Gold & Diamond South Sea Bangle Pearl Bracelet

White South Sea and Golden South Sea pearls are the most sought after cultured versions of the gems in the world. That’s because they are the rarest, and offer the most luster and greatest pearls sizes. Both Golden South Sea and White South Sea pearls are cultivated in saltwater.

  • Natural Colors: Cream, White, Silver
  • Sizes: 8 mm to 20 mm
  • Parent: Pinctada Maxima Mollusk

5. Cultured Tahitian Pearls

Gold Emerald and Black Tahitian Pearl Frog Ring
Gold Emerald and Black Tahitian Pearl Frog Ring. Image Source: Pinterest

If you’re looking for real pearls that are naturally black in color, Tahitian pearls are what you want. They are babies of the Pinctada margaritifera, which is the only oyster that naturally produces black pearls.

Black Tahitian pearls are unmistakably vibrant and extremely rare. Therefore, these “Pearls of Queens” are quite expensive when buying pearls online. They offer almost perfectly round shapes, brilliant luster and sizes generally larger than other cultured pearls.

  • Natural Colors: Gray, Brown, Green, Blue, Purple
  • Sizes: 8 mm to 21 mm
  • Parent: Pinctada Margaritifera Mollusk

4 Main Factors That Affect the Value of a Pearl

How much pearls cost is based on the various pricing systems of individual online pearl jewelry stores. But, knowing how to use the four main factors behind a pearl’s value can help ensure you don’t pay more than what the gem is worth.

Note that no one factor determines a pearl’s value of the price of a pearl. When judging the value of pearl jewelry, use these factors in conjunction with each other, along with asking questions from the jewelry retail store when buying pearls online.

1. Pearl Shape

9-11mm South Sea & Freshwater Off-Round Multicolor Pearl Necklace
9-11mm South Sea & Freshwater Off-Round Multicolor Pearl Necklace

When it comes to the shape of a pearl, the rounder the gem, the more valuable. Because oysters rarely create (almost) perfectly round gemstones, round pearls are the rarest, making them higher in price than other pearl shapes.

2. Pearl Surface

Pearl Surface Quality Guide
Pearl Surface Quality Guide. Image Source: Nina’s Jewellery

No pearl’s surface is 100% without flaws because each one is created by a living creature. However, the least number of visible flaws, nicks, cracks or other imperfections, the more valuable and pricier the pearl.

3. Pearl Luster

When buying pearls online, be sure to contact the jewelry store directly to get information about the gem's luster.
When buying pearls online, be sure to contact the jewelry store directly to get information about the gem’s luster.

The luster of a pearl is the mirror-like sheen and shine visible on the pearl surface. High-quality gems will possess high luster, making the gemstone stand out and “pop” when viewed by the naked eye. High luster means great value.

4. Pearl Size


Pearl Size Chart from The Pearl Source
Pearl Size Chart from The Pearl Source

Once all of the other three factors have been judged, this is the most important factor in the end. Pearl size definitely matters when it comes to these gems. Traditionally, larger pearls were for more mature women back in the day. But, these days, all adult women are flocking to the larger sized gems. Smaller pearls are being used in jewelry trending for little girls and teenagers.

Online Pearl Buying Tips to Get You Started

The Pearl Source creates custom pearl jewelry using loose pearls purchased online or at home and Facebook pearl parties.
The Pearl Source creates custom pearl jewelry using loose pearls purchased online or at home and Facebook pearl parties.

Buying pearl jewelry online means making a high-end purchase without actually touching the product first. Therefore, you need to take certain measures to protect yourself when shopping online for pearl jewelry:

  • Cultured Pearl Experts: Always make sure the online jewelry store is owned and operated by pearl experts. If not, they may be misinformed, ignorant of uneducated about cultured pearls.
  • Solid Return Policy: Make sure the online pearl jewelry store offers a reasonable return policy. Remember, you’re buying a high-end piece of jewelry without trying it on first. What if you don’t like it once it arrives?
  • Direct Customer Service: Only shop with an online pearl jewelry retailer that’s willing to answer your questions via email and by phone. Never spend thousands of dollars with a company that won’t share a reliable phone number with you, and doesn’t have someone available during business hours to answer your calls. If you can’t reach them directly before buying pearls online, you definitely won’t be able to reach anyone if there’s a problem with your order.

Buying Pearls Online: Pearl Grading Chart

Please include attribution to https://www.thepearlsource.com with this graphic.

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Kiesha Joseph
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Kiesha Joseph

The Pearl Source Content Manager at Content Marketing Geek Corporation
Kiesha Joseph is the Managing Content Editor for ThePearlSource.com, a leading online pearl jewelry website offering high-quality pearls at affordable prices. Kiesha is a Content Marketing Geek who enjoys educating her audience on a broad range of topics, including trends in marketing, SEO, jewelry, fashion, celebrity style and more.
Kiesha Joseph
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