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Pearl Price Guide

Beautiful, rare, classic. The shape and shine of pearl jewelry have always been associated with both modest elegance and extravagant luxury, even experiencing a recent trend towards the whimsical. While vintage pieces were once harvested from oysters off the coasts, most modern pearls are “man”-made. These pearls are still marinated in marine life, they’re just given a bit of extra encouragement by humans.

With such versatile origins, the price of a pearl can range greatly. Not just because of the unique color, size, shape, and place of origin, but also accounting for the fact that these gems are made by living oysters.

The price of a pearl now averages between $300-1,500, and there are a few factors to consider when questioning both quality and value. Here’s all you need to know to shop a gorgeous pearl within your price range.

Price of Pearls

Forged by shellfish and seafoam, pearls are the only gems created inside of an animal – and the range in their quality varies greatly.

Based on strands, here’s what you’ll usually discover in each price range for pearls:

Types of Pearls

South Sea

The biggest, most valuable pearls are found in the shallows of the Pacific, between French Polynesia and the Cook Islands. What’s so special about these saltwater gems? Time. The type of oyster that bears these beauties takes up to five years to create just one gem. But as we said, they’re worth the wait, as not only the rarest pearls, but also the most robust, ranging from 10-20 millimeters, and averaging about 16. Anything below 10mm is called a baby South Sea pearl. The size of a South Sea pearl makes it thicker (more durable) and lightly reflective (iridescent), which is why a South Sea pearl strand starts around $200-600.

Tahitian

Harvested in temperate Tahiti, this exotic pearl has a mythical background, said to disperse any negativity (everything from a broken heart to a broken bone). These gems boast a dark palette of deep greens and blues and include the only true black pearls. Yep, all others are dyed. This range of inky overtones make these pearls highly coveted and often expensive.

Akoya

Akoya pearls are known for their incredibly perfect roundness. Slightly less common than the ubiquitous freshwater pearls, the Akoya pearl’s stunning luster places it just above them pricewise.

Freshwater

These are the most inexpensive pearls because batches are plentiful. Oysters can churn out many of these elegant gems at once, all in under 3 months. And unless you’re an expert, you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference between a round freshwater and an Akoya pearl.

How Pearl Type Affects Price

The lavish South Sea pearl generally attracts bigger budgets while the widely available freshwater is known to be more economical. Pearl type does affect price because saltwater oysters produce one gem at a time, and that rarity makes the cost steeper.

Pearl price is actually mostly a matter of whether the pearl type is natural or cultured. Sometimes a wild freshwater can fetch more than a homegrown South Sea pearl. Read on for why.

Cost of Natural Pearls vs. Cultured Pearls

Pearls are formed when particles get trapped in an oyster’s shell. Sometimes this process is more intentional than organic. Cultured pearls are triggered by a human, whereas natural pearls are a little less undomesticated, as the name implies. With a cultured pearl, the “irritant” is lovingly placed inside the oyster vs. fortuitously floating there.

Both pearls are real. Same process, different environment. Mother Nature vs. human hand. Some people prefer the “purity” of a pearl born without intervention, but you pay much more for it. Adding to the price of that “authenticity?” Most pearls these days are cultured, making natural pearls harder to come by. So, you’re also paying for that scarcity.

Qualities That Affect Pearl Price

Pearl Type

In order of expense, the price starts with the elusive South Sea and Tahitian pearls, and trickles down to the more widespread Akoya and Freshwater pearls.

Pearl Size

The most common pearl sizes are 6-9mm, though cultured pearls are growing larger by the day. South Sea pearls are the biggest, at an exceptional 16mm, and therefore the most valuable. Freshwater pearls, being the least standardized (and most affordable), can range anywhere from 4-12mm.

Pearl Color

Though the pearl is known for its go-to glossy white, the darker the pearl, the more the price. You’re paying for that unexpected flair. For example, pastel freshwater pearls are less out of the ordinary than the oily bodies of Tahitian black pearls. The unusual golden South Sea pearls are few and far between, making them the most sought-after and expensive.

Pearl Shape

Round pearls are the most prized (and rare), with cost dipping as shapes become more popular. “Off-round” pearls are the best value, with seemingly no major visible difference from a sphere. You can save even more by embracing imperfection over symmetry. Domed buttons, ovular tear drops, and flat coins all sell for less and make better fits for earrings. Baroque pearls are the most irregular, but still make up about 40% of a pearl harvest. Their prevalence and uneven nature make them the most affordable.

Pearl Luster

Luster is a gem’s mysterious glisten; basically, how much light it reflects. Poor luster is a subtle shine, while high quality luster is sharp, giving a pearl its notorious silky sheen. You pay more for the latter.

Pearl Surface

Your gem’s surface determines not only the luster (mentioned above), but also how long it will last. A flawless pearl coating is exquisite, making the smoother Sea Pearl more expensive. It’s also why smooth pearls tend to be fakes. Crystalline Freshwater pearls have a grittier texture.

Are pearls a good investment?

Most people choose to reserve heirlooms for the big, smooth, durable, dark pearls, especially natural ones. These are all qualities that make pearls super special. But only you and your loved one determine what makes jewelry worthy of being passed down.

As you’re on the lookout for the best value gem, especially an investment piece, be aware that there are also fake “costume” pearls, which are made from glass or plastic. But don’t worry — we put together a list of tips on how to tell if pearls are real so their coating can’t fool you.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to consider when defining the worth of any pearl. But the world is your oyster. See our gemstones buying guide for more shopping tips to buy pearls on any budget. And you can always shop your pearls at Brilliant Earth if you define part of your gem’s value by ethical sourcing.

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