Complete guide to pearls - Hamra Jewelers

Complete guide to pearls

Much like diamonds, pearls have different grades that will determine the price and quality of the pearl. But the categories are different than the 4 C’s of diamonds. Pearls are graded on their shape, lustre, surface, nacre and size. Most jewelers will rate pearls on the A system with A being the lowest grade and AAA being the best.

Each of the categories that your pearl is rated on will depend on whether or not it is on a strand. You can discuss with your jeweler how they’ve rated the pearls because strands of pearls are rated against each other.


Here are  5 categories your pearl will be graded on:


• Shape – Natural pearls develop into different shapes including round, tear drop, oval and near round. Round pearls will demand the highest prices as they are rarer. The AAA grade is reserved for the roundest pearls. Keep in mind that non-round pearls are also very valuable and sought-after because of their unusual characteristics.


• Lustre – This refers to the shine of the pearl. Based on its brilliance, the lustre is graded by the light reflection. Chalky pearls will receive the lower grade of A while the shiniest of pearls will receive the AAA grade.


• Surface – The quality of the surface of the pearl is a big factor in the pricing. Much like diamonds, you want the pearl to be as clean as possible. Imperfections are almost unavoidable when it comes to cultured pearls and are accepted. But pits and holes or a thin nacre will dramatically lower the price of the pearl. AAA pearls will be clean and clear to the naked eye.


• Nacre – When inside of an oyster, pearls are coated for protection. This is called nacre. The thicker the nacre, the longer the pearl has been inside of an oyster. The thickness of a pearl’s nacre will be undetectable to the naked eye, but jewelers can make a distinction between an A pearl with 0.25mm of nacre and a AAA pearl with 0.5mm of nacre.


• Matching – This category applies mainly to pearls in necklaces, earrings or bracelets. It’s very important to have the pearls on a strand match as much as possible. The pearls won’t be identical. In nature that’s almost impossible and it also gives it an artificial look. It’s most important that the pearls match in color, lustre and surface quality.


At Hamra Jewelers, we don’t sell products: we sell passions. To us gemstones, diamonds, jewelry, watches and pearls aren’t just luxurious objects of beauty: They’re fascinating subjects worthy of study, possessing rich histories. And our staff reflects that: We’re proud to say that we have a group of experts, masters of their trade, here to help our customers find their perfect piece.


One of our resident experts is our Creative Director, Steve McGhee. Steve has a particularly deep well of knowledge to draw from when it comes to pearls. We sat down to talk with him about the wonderful world of pearls. If you have any questions about how pearls are made, where they come from or what kind of pearls are out there, read on and learn from our master.


HAMRA JEWELERS: How long have you been working with pearls in the industry?

STEVEN MCGHEE: “I have been in the industry for over 20 years. Eight of those were spent dealing with wholesale pearls.”


HJ: What drew you to pearls, as opposed to other kinds of materials like gemstones or precious metals? What is it about pearls that drew your attention?

SM: “I kind of fell into the job! I picked it up and basically taught myself how to grade pearls, how to pick pearls and how to match them. It just kind of escalated from there.”


HJ: Could you give us an explanation on how to grade pearls? What are you looking at, in terms of characteristics and how you differentiate them?

SM: “If you’re grading pearls of certain value, the things that go into the value of that pearl are, first, the spherical-ness. It must be perfectly round. You’re trying to look at the different layers of the pearl, the thicker the pearl, the thicker the nacre, the better quality of pearl you have and the longer it’ll keep its lustre.

That’s something else you look at, the pearl’s lustre. And you also look at spotting and pitting. Certain pearls can have a little pit here and there; that lowers the quality of the pearl. So when you find a pearl that’s perfectly round, that has a very high lustre and no spots on it, you’re looking at a very, very high quality pearl.”


HJ: Is there a certain geographic region where better quality pearls tend to come from, or are they all over the place?

SM: “They’re a bit all over the place. You have different types of pearls. The Akoya pearl is the pearl you usually see women wearing as a classic white strand of pearls. You have Japanese Akoya and Chinese Akoya. The Japanese Akoya tend to be a little better in terms of quality and companies like Mikimoto, which is the number one pearl company in the world, only carry the most exquisite pearls you can find.” Mikimoto himself was involved with the process of making the cultured pearl. He was the one who came up with the process of how to insert a nucleus into the oyster to help make a pearl, instead of just going and diving for oysters and opening them up sometimes not finding anything. So if you look at Mikimoto’s grading of pearls, you will find that there’s a top seven grades that they will consider a Mikimoto pearl. Their pearls are beautiful.”


HJ: Are natural pearls considered more valuable than cultured pearls, or is there not really a difference at this point?

SM: “At this point, it depends on the type of pearl you’re talking about. When it comes to Akoya, you’re probably better off finding a cultured pearl for that. Some South Sea pearls, if you can find a natural one, chances are they won’t be as round as one that has been cultured. What they’ll do is open up the oyster. On the outside of the oyster is a lip. There’s material in there that’s called mantle. What started oysters making pearls is that they would eat and a piece of sand would get lodged that they couldn’t expel. They’d find it sharp and uncomfortable. Their shell is called mother of pearl; they’ll take layers of their shell and build it around that piece of sand to make it more comfortable. 


Mikimoto decided to lodge something in there, a nucleus, that’s perfectly round and put it somewhere where the oyster can’t expel it. The oyster will make the layers of the pearl, creating a cultured pearl. So you have different regions where you can find specific pearls. You have the Tahitian pearls, which are black pearls. Those are in the Tahitian waters and the South Seas. And in the South Sea waters you’ll also get these large, white, very big Wilma-Flintstone-type necklace pearls. Or golden pearls, which have this amazing golden hue sometimes with overtones of green and pink. 


A lot of pearls also come from Australia. The Akoyas are mainly found in Japan and China and are much more widespread. Then you have your freshwater pearls, which you can get anywhere. There have been some discoveries in the last couple of years, of different kinds of pearls. One of them is called a Melo pearl. The Melo is a round pearl that’s orange, yellow and white. It kind of looks like a flame is going around it. They’re HIGHLY rare. And then you have the conch pearl. Now the conch pearl is a pearl that’s pink and kind of has that flame going through it as well. But it comes from a conch shell! Those are natural pearls; since the conch is shaped differently, no one has figured out how to put a nucleus inside the conch shell to make a cultured pearl. They were found by fishermen in Florida, who were conch fishing. They found these little beads inside them and were giving them to their kids to play with, not realizing how valuable they are! I’ve even heard of a clam being able to produce a pearl. I’ve heard of a mussel being able to do it too. You figure it’s the same thing- it opens and closes the same way, it has that piece that it can’t dislodge and it has a mother of pearl type shell so they can make that layer.”


HJ: I know that in the diamond and gold trade they often have to deal with fakes and knock-offs. Does the pearl trade have the same issues?

SM: “Absolutely. The best way to look at a pearl and see if its imitation is to feel them. Pearls look smooth and feel smooth, but… You ever heard that story about scraping a pearl on your teeth? People used to do that all the time to see if it was real. Which damages the pearl! If you were to take your nail and run it along the surface of the pearl, you’ll find that it feels a bit gritty. Whereas a fake pearl is usually perfectly smooth!  So if you take two fake pearls and rub them a little bit together, you won’t feel the abrasive grittiness like on a true pearl.”


HJ: So it’s a matter of texture?

SM: “Exactly. That’s one good way of telling a real pearl. Microscopically, you could do it as well, and see all the different layers, but the easiest way is to do it through the texture.”

pearls of wisdom: a classic touch for the classic woman

In the words of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy: “Pearls are always appropriate.” Pearls are a gorgeous and classy alternative when it comes to jewelry. Gold, silver, gems and diamonds have their times to shine, but there are some moments in life that call for a touch of understated elegance. In those moments, you can forget about diamonds: PEARLS are a girl’s best friend!

We’re passionate about pearls at Hamra Jewelers, just as we’re excited about our wide selection of diamonds, rings, necklaces, watches, colored stones and other beautiful pieces of fine jewelry. 


If you’re looking to add a touch of class to your jewelry collection, pearls are the way to go. They should be as welcome a sight sitting in your jewelry box as they would be sitting in the mouth of an oyster. But there are so many different styles of pearl necklaces! Which one is right for you? Read on to find out more about the different types of pearls and necklaces that are out there, making the world a lovelier and more refined place.


know your pearls

There are many different ways to judge pearls, based on their size, shape, lustre and other factors. Pearls can come in natural and cultured varieties. These varieties include:

• Akoya: these are smaller saltwater pearls, ranging in size from 2mm to 9mm, that are farmed in Japan and China.

• Freshwater: ranging in size from 2mm to 11mm, freshwater pearls are found in China, Japan and parts of North America

• Tahitian: cultivated from black-lipped oysters, these pearls are from Polynesia and range in size from 9mm to 16mm.

• South Sea: found in silver and gold-lipped oysters, these pearls are found in Australia, Indonesia and The Philippines and range in size from 8mm to 15mm and larger.


collar style

The choker is the classic pearl necklace, the style that almost everyone thinks of first. It is a simple and elegant strand of pearls. A single strand or a multi-strand. The single strand looks great for casual dresses and works well with light makeup. It’s a piece of jewelry that’s fit for shop girls AND princesses. The multi-strand, all the same length is for an elegant night on the town.

choker style

The choker is the classic pearl necklace, the style that almost everyone thinks of first. It is a simple and elegant strand of pearls. A single strand or a multi-strand. The single strand looks great for casual dresses and works well with light makeup. It’s a piece of jewelry that’s fit for shop girls AND princesses. The multi-strand, all the same length is for an elegant night on the town.

princess style

Princess is another single strand style of pearl necklace. What separates it from the choker is that it is much longer. The average princess style will be about 18 inches long. It works well with high neck-line dresses.

rope style

The rope style stands out from the pearl pack with its distinctive long rope-shaped look. It can be as long as 45 + inches. It’s a little too bold and majestic for casual wear, so it’s a piece that’s best worn when you’re trying to make a BIG impression.

pendant style

This is a look that has been trending for many years. Pendant necklaces consist of a pearl pendant that’s attached to a thin metal chain (usually made of gold, silver or platinum). Unlike other pearl necklaces, they don’t have a uniform look or length: their appearances can vary widely, which means they don’t always pair well with the same kinds of clothes like other pearls do. Although can be quite versatile depending on style. Some look great with a t-shirt and jeans and then the same pendant can be worn with a dress or evening gown.

pearl care

Pearls are classic and among the most elegant gems you can buy, but as organic gems they require special attention and care to give them the longest life possible. By following these tips, you can ensure your pearls will be in shape to be passed down from generation to generation, becoming a family heirloom.

pearl care do's

1. Put pearls on last.

Perfumes, lotions, and hair spray can be harmful to your pearls. Chemicals can degrade the surface of the pearl, taking away the natural luster and damaging the surface. After applying makeup and perfume, wait 15 minutes for your skin to absorb any excess before putting on your pearls.


2. Take pearls off first.

This will help make sure you don’t accidentally wear them in the shower as steam can have adverse reactions


3. If you don’t have a designated pearl cleaner, have your pearls professionally cleaned.


pearl care dont's

1. Don’t keep pearls in a warm setting.

Don’t leave pearls close to a heat source such as a fireplace, too close to electronics or an attic. A good rule of thumb is, if you can feel a significant amount of heat difference between the room temperature and where they’re sitting, don’t store your pearls there.


2. Don’t store pearls in dry places.

Pearls need to a small amount of moisture to stay in tip-top shape. Keeping your pearls in a safe-deposit box or storage unit can deprive them of natural moisture in the air.