Handmade Pearl Jewelry

There’s so much to consider when evaluating handmade pearl jewelry, that a pearl connoisseur would be wise to educate his or herself far beyond the scope of this writing.

When purchasing pearl jewelry, it’s important to know the basics of quality to ensure a piece will last for years to come. Nothing is more embarrassing than wearing a gorgeous strand of pearls only to have the faux shine flake off on the wearer. To avoid such moments, read below carefully and evaluate each pearl purchase closely.

Artificial versus Genuine
For a trendier piece that won’t become a family heirloom, faux handmade pearl jewelry can be an inexpensive option. Artificial pearls generally have less shine and lack the iridescence (that multicolored glow) of genuine pearls. Faux pearls should always be evaluated closely even if the price is very low; to ensure that they are not already showing signs of wear and that the wire or rope they hang on is crafted well. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on genuine pearls with one last caution: with pearl jewelry, you truly get what you pay for.

“Genuine” pearls can be either natural or cultured, with the former being much more expensive as they are rare and highly sought. Cultured pearls are much more common and are likely what you’ll find when purchasing handmade pearl jewelry.

Luster and Nacre
Nacre is the depth of pearlescent glow in the piece, and is determined by the way the pearl is bred. Deeper nacre means a deeper, more brilliant glow and ultimately a more beautiful pearl. It’s wise to avoid pearls with very thin nacre (you can tell this by holding the pearl up to light- if you can see the grain of the interior of the pearl, the nacre is too thin). Not only will the pearl bring more visual delight with thick nacre, but also nacre that is too thin will make the pearl susceptible to cracks or peeling.

Luster, which is related to nacre, is the shine or brilliance of the pearl. Chalky pearls (which often have thin nacres) will appear fake though their price tag says otherwise.

Compare your pearls to others of higher luster to see the difference in shine.

Surface
Arguably, luster is more important than a blemish-free pearl surface, as pearls are naturally made gems and conditions cannot always be controlled. Inspect each pearl for obvious or excessive blemishes, but be prepared to appreciate tiny imperfections as the personality of the piece.

Color
Pearl color options range from the most iridescent white to black, and are entirely dependent upon the wearer. The most important thing to determine with any pearl color is that the color is evenly distributed over the entire surface and does not fade or look blotchy.

Shape and Size
A large, round pearl is more sought-after than a small, misshapen pearl, but ultimately the style of the piece should match your style and suit you for years to come.

Larger pearls are harder to cultivate and significantly more expensive than smaller pearls, so evaluate carefully any pearl that seems “too big to be true.”

One last quick way to inspect a pearl is to look through the drill-hole. Often, a pearl’s nacre and quality can be quickly determined by a look “inside” by way of its drilling. A handmade jewelry artisan should never be offended by your inspection of a genuine pearl piece, and should be able to tell you exactly what type of pearl you’re evaluating.

If you’re truly not sure, it’s wise to have an appraisal of any expensive handmade pearl jewelry purchase, to protect yourself and ensure your pearls will serve you well for years to come.

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