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What qualities* make one pearl more valued than another?

Size: Size speaks for itself; larger simply is more valuable, all other things being equal.

Shape: Round is the rarest and is the most valuable. After that, off-round, oval, drop, buttons, coins, freeform are an example of the progression of the shape. The further from round the lower the value.

GIA classifies shapes into 3 categories: spherical, symmetrical & baroque.
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Spherical pearls--Round or near round.

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Symmetrical--Pearls that look the same on each side if you divided them in half.

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Baroque--Irregularly shaped pearls such as crosses & sticks.

Color: White is the universal color. In Asia & the USA pink-white is the ultimate. Other favored natural colors are pink, golden pink, lavender, purple, black, etc. Many pearls are enhanced with dyes, irradiation and other treatments. Dyed pearls have a lesser value than those with natural colors.

GIA classifies pearl color as having 3 characteristics:

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Body color--The dominant overall color of a pearl.

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Overtone--One or more translucent colors that appear over a pearl's body color.

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Orient--Iridescent, rainbow colors shimmering on or just below a pearl's surface.

Luster: This is the most important quality in evaluating the beauty of a pearl. The iridescence, the life of the pearl, the shimmer, glow, and the luminosity of the pearl all come together here. Luster is closely related to orient.

GIA has 4 categories for luster:

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Excellent reflections are bright and pinpoint sharp

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Good reflections are bright but not as sharp, slightly matte finish

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Fair reflections are hazy and blurred

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Poor reflections are diffused and appear chalky and dull

Surface quality: Evenness of the surface, with no undulating undercurrents to distract the eye.

GIA classifies this into 4 categories:

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Clean: Virtually blemish free

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Lightly Blemished: Minor surface irregularities

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Moderately Blemished: Noticeable surface irregularities

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Heavily Blemished: Obvious surface irregularities

Nacre quality: Interrelated with the other two. Thickness & quality of nacre are selling points for fresh water pearls. The quality ranges from acceptable to chalky.

Matching: A brilliant matching pair is more difficult find than a single gem. Look for overall uniformity in color, shape, finish etc. in a strand or suite.

Uniqueness: This can be any unusual combination of the forgoing factors.

Provenance: Previous ownership, from fame to notoriety enhances the value of a pearl. It is the legacy of the pearls detailing its journey from the past to the present. Provenance is related to Branding.

* These qualities apply to all natural and cultivated pearls.


Bibliography

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Akamatsu, Shigeru, Zansheng, Li Tajima, Moses, Thomas M., & Scarratt, Kenneth, "The Current Status of Chinese Freshwater Cultured Pearls", pp.96-113, Gems & Gemology, Summer 2001, Volume XXXVII. GIA, Carlsbad, CA 92008

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GIA Course on Pearls, Carlsbad, CA 92008, 1999

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Joyce, Kristin & Addison, Shellei, Pearls, Ornament & Obsession, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 10020, 1999

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Landman, Neil H., Mikkelsen, Paula M., Bieler, Rudiger & Bronson, Bennet, Pearls: A Natural History, Harry N Abrams, Inc. in association with The American Museum of Natural History & The Field Museum, New York, NY, 2001

 

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