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7 Pearl Jewelry Terms You Must Know

7 Pearl Jewelry Terms You Must Know

When shopping for pearl jewelry, whether online or in a jewelry store, you are going to see and hear some industry terms that you may not be that familiar with. You’ll be told that the nacre of this pearl is thick, it’s luster is excellent, it’s surface is clean and that is why it retails for $999. The only thing you might recognize from that description is the price! So educating yourself on the terminology used to describe pearl jewelry before you begin shopping will allow you to accurately compare pearls from one another, understand their value, and can lead you to making a very good purchase on quality pearls. You may even end up saving a few dollars just by knowing a few terms!

Cultured vs Natural Pearls

Let’s start with knowing the difference between Cultured Pearls and Natural Pearls. While both are real pearls, the way they are created is what sets them apart. Cultured pearls are harvested on pearl farms in controlled conditions. With the assistance of pearl farmers, they insert an object into the mollusk to jump start the creation of the pearl. The end result is still an authentic pearl that carries the same properties as a natural pearl.

Natural pearls by contrast are those found in their natural environment. They are pearls that have been stumbled upon by chance. Therefore, natural pearl jewelry may carry a heavier price tag than cultured pearl jewelry because of the unique, natural quality they have. Cultured pearls tend to be more affordable because of their ability to be mass produced. However, each is still very similar in their qualities and authenticity.


As you study the pearls that interest you, pay close attention to the shape of the pearl. The closer each pearl is to a perfect sphere or being perfectly round, the higher in value the jewelry will be. Round pearls are pretty rare to come across and only account for a small percentage of the pearls coming out of pearl farms.

From there, you will see the term Near-round to describe pearls that are not quite perfectly round, but close to it. Oval pearls look just as they sound. Button style pearls are pearls that appear to be thinner, or squashed by comparison. Drop pearls have the appearance of a tear drop.

Lastly are Baroque pearls. These pearls are irregular in shape and are non-symmetrical as well. In fact, the actual shapes of a baroque pearl can range from simply being semi-round to stick or cross shaped. Many times however, a strand of baroque pearls will be similar to each other thus creating a uniform strand. Incidentally, baroque Tahitian and South Sea pearls are also very unique as the process to create them takes much longer. Therefore, their value may be considered greater.

Nacre / Mother-of-Pearl

Nacre, or mother-of-pearl, is a secretion of calcium carbonate and conchiolin that a mollusk will release to cover an object such as a grain of sand that has entered the mollusk. This object acts as an irritant and triggers the secretion to begin. Layers and layers of nacre will build around this object and leads to the production of a pearl. In fact, a real pearl can be identified by its layers of nacre present. The thicker the nacre, the higher quality and more durable your pearl is against nicks, scratches and overall wear and tear.


Luster is a term used to describe a pearls ability to reflect light. The more translucent each layer of the pearl, the greater its ability to reflect light. You can visually determine a pearls luster by its ability to show your reflection or have shine to it. If the pearl is dull or really doesn’t have a reflection, then it is considered to be poor in quality.


A pearls surface can be described as clean, blemished or marked. The surface is basically how you see the pearl. Looking at it, do you see any marks or discolorations in its coating or color? If you do, these are the pearls blemishes or marks. If a pearl does not appear to have any, then it is described as clean. A pearl with a clean surface is considered to have a higher value than a pearl with a blemished surface. If you have your eyes set on a strand of clean pearls, be sure that the strand is uniform and that each pearl has a clean surface. While blemished pearls are considered to be lesser in value, they are still considered to be of good quality. Pearls whose surface is so poor generally do not make it to the jewelry stage.


Colors of pearls vary from bright whites to rich shades of black. The color of the pearl will depend on the types of pearls you are looking at. For instance Akoya pearls generally come in whites with cream or pink overtones. Tahitian pearls on the other hand are most likely black or shades of gray. South Sea pearls meanwhile are generally associated with golden pearls.

The color of pearls really doesn’t affect the pricing of it. However you will want to be sure that all of the other quality factors still apply to the pearls you are considering. Your choice of colored pearls should be chosen carefully to compliment your skin tone. As a rule of thumb, people with tan or darker skin tones tend to find darker pearls or pearls with cream overtones to compliment their skin best. Women with lighter, fairer skin will find that pearls with pink or rose overtones work well.


With so many terms used to describe pearl jewelry, it’s not a wonder we felt the need to write this article! However, all of these characteristics can be combined and defined with a simple grade. Yes, pearls receive grades based upon their quality. There are three grades of pearls that can be assigned ranging from A to AAA.

A pearl with a grade of AAA means these pearls are of the highest quality and greatest value. It means all of the characteristics listed out above are of the best conditioning. You can expect these types of pearls to be higher in price.

Pearl jewelry given a grade of AA is your middle of the road pearl. The pearls generally will be round or near-round shape and may have slight blemishes here and there. These and the rest of the qualities will either be considered of high quality or slightly below.

Lastly, pearl jewelry given an A generally means you’ll find a few more blemishes, a lower luster quality, and either a near round or semi-round shape. It is important to note that pearls with a lower grade do not necessarily mean they are not worth the investment. They are still quality, authentic pearls that have been matched with each other to create a uniform, cohesive set of pearl jewelry.

Perhaps you may not be able to remember all of the terminology, but knowing the significance of a pearls grade will ensure you will be able to select a quality piece of jewelry that is worth the asking price. Now you hopefully will be able to go into a jewelry shop, online or off, and will have a clear advantage to make a smart purchasing decision. Couple this information with knowing the different types of pearls available and you will be all set!