what a gem! a buyers guide for pearls.


Monday I hop to Tucson to buy raw materials at the largest buying show in North America. Each year, over 50,000 people descend on this little Arizona town to ruffle through piles of unusual stones, rare gems and unique pearls. It’s like Art Basel for beads.

So what do you look for when purchasing pearls?

N a c r e   f i r s t. The higher the grade the pearl, the more nacre it has. What is nacre? Nacre is the outer coating of a pearl – the illustrious coating the oyster puts around the irritant to form a pearl.  Good pearls have fewer blemishes, bumps, discoloration or spotting on their nacre. Look for consistency. The thicker the nacre the better.

Want a trick?  Check the drill hole of a pearl.  Often you can see how thick the nacre is here.


L e t    i t   s h i  n e.  Look for luster. Dull, flat pearls have less nacre; highly reflective, glass-like pearls have more nacre. Also look for undertones here: shades of pinks and creams are often more valuable than those with yellow coloration. (Be careful here though: colors can be artificially enhanced or added…more on that later!)

D r o p   t h e   g r a d e s. Often pearl dealers assign A, AA, AAA grades to pearls. Discard these: they are often arbitrary. There is no standard in grading pearls and these are often assigned to justify an inflated price. Stick with the tips above.

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