The Problem with Buying Retail or Auction Pearls
Big pearl sellers (sites or retail stores) or auction site sellers of loose pearls and pearl strands will often have pictures, lots of pictures. But you want to make sure that the photos are accompanied by good basic information about the pearls. Even so, use caution when buying from these bulk sellers. With all of that inventory, how will you know that the item you see in the picture is the one you are buying? And unless the quality of the pearls is well-explained, how will you know what you are getting?
Very often, the markup in retail chains (including both single-owner and mall-type jewelry store chains) is ridiculous, and you are basically paying for the metal on the clasp, the shiny displays and the fancy packaging. It can be safer to deal with small sites, custom jewelers, and true artisan crafters who know how to buy pearls, know the best ways to set and string pearls, and know how to price pearls accurately.
Another drawback of buying retail is that you get the styles they sell, and no other. Most jewelry stores can custom-make a piece, but the labor is so costly for them that the prices are usually high enough to make your eyes water. At Ann Summers Jewelry and other artisan designers like it, you can see a piece you like, and ask to have one made with a few changes. Want a shorter strand? Different color or sized pearls? Earrings to match? Gold instead of silver settings? A more traditional or casual style? Not a problem. An artisan company can make it just for you, ship it straight to you, and ensure that you get exactly what you want.