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How to Judge the Quality of a Pearl

There are many factors which come into play when considering the quality of a pearl. Mother Nature varies considerably in her creations; the pearl is no exception. There are six main characteristics to use when judging pearl quality: shape, size, nacre, luster, surface quality and color.


Although most people associate pearls with a perfectly round shape, there are many other shapes created in nature. The rounder a pearl, the more precious and expensive it is. Perfectly round pearls are relatively rare. Oval, drop shaped, ringed, baroque and button are a few other general shapes, and there are many misshapen types without a characteristic defining outline.

There is an abundance of freshwater pearls which are oval or rice shaped. Many necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other types of jewelry are made with misshapen freshwater pearls. These types of freshwater pearl necklaces and jewelry are generally fairly inexpensive, and are very popular as a result.


If you’ve ever shopped for strands of pearls, you’d have noticed that strands of smaller pearls are generally much less expensive than strands of large pearls. The larger a pearl, the more expensive it is. Sizes range from very small to very large, but the average pearl size is around 6-7 mm.


Nacre is a strange word, and is one very specific to pearls. It refers to the substance which mollusks secrete to coat any irritants inside its shell - so that the irritant doesn’t damage its fragile tissues. A thick layer of nacre generally means a higher quality pearl. Some pearls are ‘seeded’ with a starter. If the starter object is fairly large, the nacre layer won’t be as thick. As a result, the pearl would probably be less expensive.


Pearls have a particularly unique sheen to them, and luster is the word to describe this quality. The glow of a pearl can be very deep, as light is reflected in the layers of nacre. A deep glow is desirable. The smoother the surface of a pearl, the more brilliant the reflection of light will be. The luster will greatly affect the quality of a pearl.

Surface Quality

Sometimes a pearl can be perfectly round, but the surface has imperfections which lowers the value considerably. Bumps, cracking or spots on the surface are all undesirable. Having a “clean” surface with little or no imperfections means a more valuable pearl.


There are many colors associated with pearls. Most people think of pearls as having shades of white or cream, but there are also black pearls, gold pearls, and many other colors. Consistent color throughout the pearl is a good quality. Preference between colors is really a matter of taste.

When looking at pearls, keep in mind the above six factors. Take a look at each quality, but also keep in mind your personal taste. Some people prefer oval pearls to round, or small pearls to large. Balance personal taste with good quality to find the best pearls for your situation.

You may be interested in other articles about jewelry quality such as: Buying Good Quality Silver and Learn About Rubies for Rings.




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