Buying the Right Pearls for You or Someone Else
Pearl grading is handy, and dealers and jewelers rely on it to sell high-quality pearls. But many pearls (the majority of affordable ones,) are not graded. So what to do? And if you’re not a professional pearl dealer or grader, what to not do? One thing you must know about pearl quality is that if a pearl is good, you can feel it and see it.
When I pick up a string of pearls at a dealer’s stall, I spend a lot of time touching, hefting, and just feeling the pearls. I move them around in my hands, watch how they catch the light, and use a hand lens to look up close for things that might cause problems or point to a lesser quality than the price indicates. There are lots of tricks for assessing pearls, but the main thing is how they look. Are they scratched or dull-looking, or luminous and shiny as they should be? Relying on a good buyer/supplier who is close to the process is key.
When buying pearls as gifts or for yourself, first think about size. Bigger is not always better. Rule 9: buy pearls that don’t upstage you. A strand of large millimeter pearls will look better on a tall, buxom or large-featured woman. Otherwise it’s usually best to space them out and use only a few. For a petite woman or one with small, fine features, smaller pearls are preferable, but large pearls can be worn in a shorter collar or princess length strand. A large pearl can be great in a ring, as long as it doesn’t stick up so high that it constantly gets banged around. As earrings, a small pearl will look better on petite women with small features, or one large pearl dangling from a chain, for a more delicate look.
Think about function. I admit, I wear my pearls rock climbing, kayaking, camping and hiking. I don’t however, smear them with harsh soap, alcohol, or hairspray. Even good pearls are delicate and can be scratched (hence not using them in rings) and my 15 year-old son recently found out how chemicals affect them when he was helping me clean silver clasps for a show. Yes, it was sad. He got silver cleaner on some the pearls and while, not ruined, they lost their lovely shine. Had to be restrung. Lessons you’d rather not learn by doing… So, don’t baby them, but don’t go taking a nail file to your pearls either.
In my opinion, earrings are a great place for pearls. Stud earrings of pearl are a classic, (but in my opinion) they don’t show off the pearl or the wearer as well as a pearl with some movement. This movement catches the light and gives off that rainbow spectrum of colors that a good pearl will.
Super long, Chanel-style ropes of pearls come in and out of style but they are a good choice if a woman wants to wear them in different ways, or twist them, or arrange them into different lengths. Pearl color is a very personal choice. Some shy away from wedding-white pearls for every day, but a super white pearl just looks better on some people (usually pale or dark-haired women,) while others look much better in an off-white or ecru pearl (red-heads tend to look better in these.) And colored pearls, whether natural or dyed, can be as dressy or as funky as you like, just make sure you know which you are buying.
An old-timey tip was never to buy a lady pearls that were whiter than her teeth! The best advice to to buy pearls in colors she already wears. Lots of white? Whiter pearls. Always off-white, off-white pearls. No pink ever? No pink pearls. Okay, never mind. I’m not a pink person, but I fell in love with some of the pink pearls that have been showing up on the markets lately. So, pink pearls? Oh, definitely! Black pearls? Uh, why wouldn’t you? White fresh waters shot with tiny rainbows?
Shapes of pearls? Such cool things can be done with a little structural element as designers say. My faves lately are coin shapes and rectangles, which I may add, look killer with some little faceted opals. And stacks of little irregular hockey-puck shapes are just wicked when you stack them up (better if tiny spinels or tourmalines are sandwiched in there.) And while there is something so red carpet about a shimmering rope of round pearls, you need a little funk in there. Why not some faceted gold beads, some chunks of amethyst or blue-lace agate or even bright green turquoise in there? Well, why not? It’s a new world of pearls.
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