A Pearl Primer for Brides

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but pearls are the “Queen of Gems.”

From ancient royalty to modern fashion, pearls have held sway as the most desired and elegant adornment. The classic elegance of pearls transcends centuries, style fads, and are not only the perfect accessory for the bride, but her bridesmaids as well.

Today, jewelers offer these unique gems in an array of shades ranging from the traditional white all the way through the color spectrum, including pink, green and black. You are sure to find the perfect pearl that will coordinate with your wedding day color scheme.

Pearls worn on your wedding day are often thought to bring bliss to one’s union, so having the perfect strand is a must. To help you choose the ideal strand, here’s our synopsis of Pearl 101 to ensure you are an educated buyer.

First things first, there are four types of these special gems, Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian and freshwater.  “Pearls are classified according to their origin and their shape,” explains Natalie Parman, vice president of show planning, show design and sales execution at digital jewelry retailer JTV. “Because of the wide variety of pearls available, you can choose a look and a price that is right for you.”

Royal Wedding Necklace Collection, Yoko London. Australian South Sea and Akoya pearls; pearl origin: Australia, Japan

Like diamonds, pearls are rated based on their quality. Ratings include A, AA, AA+, AAA, AAA+.  AAA and AAA+ pearls are the most valuable and best quality product. A pearl’s quality and value are based upon six criteria: luster, nacre, surface, color, shape, size and matching.

So how exactly are these fine gems created? Pearls are the result of a foreign object entering the shell of a mollusk and triggering the release of nacre. Nacre, the coating that a pearl oyster produces to cover the pearl’s nucleus, is the key to the pearls longevity.

Most of the pearls you see today are cultured pearls. They are less expensive than natural pearls because they are mass-produced with the aid of technology. Instead of waiting for nature to take its course, pearl farmers insert an irritant and a nucleus (often a mother-of-pearl bead) into an oyster to speed up the process. Cultured pearls come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and many are dyed, which means you can find a wide range of colors.

Akoya cultured pearls are produced by the Akoya oyster found in the waters surrounding Japan and are almost perfectly round; they are well-known for their high luster and rich color, which can range from white to cream, pink, green, silver and gold. These pearls can vary in size from between 2 to 10 millimeters. “Cultured Akoya pearls are the quintessential ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ strand in a creamy white color,” says Parman. “Multiple strands or choker styles are hot wedding trends.” Because they are affordable, cultured Akoya pearls also make great bridesmaids gifts.

Royal Wedding Necklace Collection, Yoko London. Akoya pearls; pearl origin: Japan

South Sea cultured pearls are larger in size than Akoyas, usually more than 10 millimeters. Produced in the warm waters of the South Seas, they come mainly from Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. These pearls are usually white, yellow or gold. Due to their size and rarity, South Sea pearls are expensive. Golden South Sea pearls have gained popularity in the United States in recent years. “If you’re choosing a special strand of pearls for your wedding, this can be a good jewelry investment,” says Parman.

Tahitian pearls are produced in Tahiti, the Cook Islands and Mexico. They range in color from black to aubergine to pistachio, and include many other colors, often with overtones of blue, pink or green. These pearls range between 8 and 15 millimeters and are highly valued because of their rarity, since the culturing process dictates a smaller volume output. “Wear Tahitian pearls to your rehearsal dinner, or pack them as part of your honeymoon wardrobe,” says Parman.

Twilight Necklace, Yoko London. Tahitian pearls; pearl origin: Tahiti

Freshwater pearls are produced in Japan, China and America. They are seldom round and are typically baroque, slugs or wings in shape. Like their saltwater brethren, they are found in a wide range of colors, including white, silvery white, pink, salmon, red, copper, bronze, brown, lavender, purple, green, blue, cream and yellow. The more affordable in the pearl family, these pearls can range in size from 4 and 6 millimeters and are a great gift idea for your wedding party.

So, now that you have been educated in the art of the pearl, here are a few last-minute tips to keep in mind before making your ultimate purchase.

  • Look for nacre thickness at least over 0.4mm. This will give you an idea of the pearl’s longevity, along with how light reflects through the pearls.
  • Assess the luster, the amount of light reflected from the pearl’s surface. The most desired and valuable pearls are those with high luster, mirror finish and clean surfaces.
  • Check for any cracks or peeling in the nacre.
  • Look for how the pearls on a strand are matched. Pearl matching affects the value of the piece, as mismatched pearls are not as aesthetically pleasing.
  • Look for pearls that are individually knotted between each pearl instead of just strung one after the other — that’s a sign of quality.

Whatever your jewelry wishes for your wedding day, pearls are an ideal choice to accessorize your day or to give as gifts to your bridesmaids.  Take your time shopping for these distinctive gems to ensure you buy the best quality.