Jan 7

Choosing Pearls: Five Things You Need to Consider

By Calla Gold

Pearl expert Antoinette Matlins

Antoinette Matlins in the Sea of Cortez Explaining a Rare Oyster’s Ability to Impart Exotic Colors on the Pearls Within

Let’s Get Another Opinion for Choosing Pearls

This  ocean loving jeweler adores pearls whether in round shapes or lumpy baroques. So when I read this great information from Antoinette Matlins, crazily over-qualified Gemologist and master of the gem and pearl universe, I asked if I could share it with you.

She, awesome gem diva that she is, she said “yes.” For pearls that will give you years of lustrous beauty, follow these proven tips from professional gemologist Antoinette Matlins, from the latest edition of her wonderful book,  The Pearl Book.

I did my usual Calla subheading thing, but the info is pure Antoinette!

Five Things You Need to Consider in Choosing Pearls For You

1. Select pearls with a rich lustrous character.

2. Select pearls that have relatively smooth surfaces.

3. Select pearls with a pleasing shape.

4. Select a color that complements your own skin, hair and eye color.

5. Select the appropriate size.

Why Pearl Luster Is Important to Your Choice 

The more intense the luster—the brighter and more luminous the pearl—the better. The intensity of the luster can be a visual indicator of the thickness of the coating; highly lustrous pearls will have a thick pearl coating.

Avoid chalky, dull or lifeless pearls, because these usually have a thin pearl coating that will chip or peel off, leaving only the shell nuclei, which are worthless shell beads!

How Smooth do You Need Your Pearls to be?

Fine cultured pearls with a thick pearl coating rarely have flawless surfaces. Minor surface imperfections are acceptable in pearls with intense luster. Avoid pearls with large blisters, pits or visible surface cracks.

The Pearl Book Cover

Antoinette’s Book

Is Round the Sexiest Shape in Pearls?

Shape is an important factor affecting cost. The rarest and costliest shape for a lustrous pearl is round. Most “round” pearls are not perfectly round (the more perfectly round, the rarer and more costly; the more out-of-round, the less rare and costly).

Caution: Most chalky, thin-coated pearls are very round (the round core inserted initially hasn’t been inside the oyster long enough for the coating to thicken sufficiently to jeopardize the shape).

There are many lovely shapes other than round from which you can choose today, and lustrous pearls in any shape, even those that are slightly out-of-round, are preferable to a round pearl with low luster and a thin pearl coating. Even if very round, avoid pearls that are chalky or lack a luminous glow that comes from deep within the pearl.

What You Need to Know About Pearl Color

Although color affects cost because some colors are rarer than others, you should select the color that is best suited to your own complexion. In terms of cost, white pearls that possess a faint blush of pink across the surface are rarer and costlier than those that are slightly creamy in color.

Peacock Tahitian Pearl Ring

This Tahitian Pearl is a Fine Peacock Color. It Shows Great Luster, Shape and Color.

Other colors, such as black or gold, are rare and costly and, depending upon the exact shade of color, can be rarer and more costly than some white pearls.

Caution: Many pearls are artificially colored. Be sure to ask whether or not the color is natural and be sure this information is stated on the receipt. For pearls in rare colors such as black or gold, ask the jeweler to obtain a report from a respected gem-testing laboratory verifying natural color.

Pearl Size Information and Ideas on Getting it Right

Size can dramatically affect the cost of pearls. Larger pearls in fine quality are rarer and sell for much more than smaller pearls. The size of a cultured pearl is given in millimeters and indicates the diameter of the pearl.

In the classic round, white pearl, there is a dramatic jump in price at 8 millimeters; pearls in a 7½-millimeter size will be much more affordable. When buying a necklace or pearl strand, if you can’t afford the size you really want, in the quality you want, consider several strands in a smaller size. Two or more strands of smaller pearls can create a look comparable to a single, larger strand, for less money.

Editorializing from Calla

That my friends is the great advice from Antoinette Matlins. I’ll mention that I sell pearls and have a number of pearl importers that I work with.

Different areas of the world export different types of pearls. We even get some pearls here in America.

Pearl Farm in Tennessee

John Latendresse Looking Out Over his Submerged Pearl Beds

As pioneering pearl farmer John Latendresse famously said,  “It is not the pristine clear blue waters of Tahiti with half naked women diving for pearls, rather it’s the muddy rivers of Tennessee, a little bit less romantic, but maybe more intriguing.”

John’s unique non-color treated cultured pearls are a source of  pride in America.

Other Pearl Blog Posts to check out:

Pearls, Your Jewelry Divas and How to Store Them

Why Sizing Your Pearl Ring Costs More

The Top Ten Reasons to Restring Your Pearls

The Pitfalls of Pearl Restringing – What Might Happen After Restringing

Pearls Must Be Knotted! Or Pearl Restringing with Knots

French Wire Finish for Your Pearls; It’s Stronger and Prettier

Ten Ways to Casual-ify Your Pearl or Bead Necklace

Calla Gold
Pearl Jeweler










23 thoughts on “Choosing Pearls: Five Things You Need to Consider

  1. Dear Calla:
    Thanks for spreading some of my “pearls of wisdom”in such a lovely way! And your mentioning of John Latendresse’s pearls (American Pearl Company) brought back a wonderful memory. Before John’s death — a great tragedy to me, personally, as well as to the entire pearl world — I was with him visiting his pearl farm in Tennessee. It was following some heavy rains and flooding, and we went out to one of the islands and spent several hours. En route back, I noticed a tick on John’s light blue jeans…then another…and another….and OMG they were all over him! Then I looked at myself — and my BLACK jeans, on which nothing was visible, and I shuddered to think what I was going to find when I returned to my hotel. Fortunately for John, his wife was able to give him a complete check, and he called to tell me she’d removed about 40 ticks. But I was alone, and had only found one on my waist, but following that phone call you’ve never seen anyone become so proficient with a make-up mirror! I didn’t find any more, but all night long I kept awaking, thinking I felt a tick and would get up to check. Nothing. For weeks I had “tick” nightmares.
    But on a serious note, John created something very special here in America. The pearls he produced –and now his daughter Gina–have very thick nacre, are never treated, and have a character unlike pearls from any other place in the world. I love them, and of course, when I wear mine I also feel John’s presence.
    Pearls are also a wonderful metaphor for “Life” itself, reminding the wearer that it is not whether or not we must face challenges in life, but HOW we deal with them; from adversity we can create something rare and beautiful–as the oyster does when a beautiful pearl is created as a result of dealing with a potentially life-threatening intruder–something that would not otherwise have been created at all…were it not for the struggle. And so it is in Life. I wish everyone would remember this…I think the world would be a better place. Perhaps some of your readers will now keep this in mind too!
    Happy New Year…

    • Dear Antoinette,
      I so appreciate your story about John Latendresse. I wish I could have met him and I’m so glad you got to know him and visit his unique place of work. Even though it was a bit “ticky!” Sorry I couldn’t help myself.
      John was such an important pearl expert. The fact that he and now daughter Gina are harvesting untreated cultured pearls made in America is kind of amazing. I’m so happy we have cultured pearls made here in our land. No one could have dreamed that 30 years ago. One more thing for me to be patriotic about.
      Antoinette, thank you as well for your reminder that from the oyster’s adversity comes a great creation of beauty in the right conditions. In this new year I hope I turn all of my adversity into beautiful creation.
      Calla Gold
      Big fan of Antoinette Matlins!

  2. Calla,
    You must be a mind reader, because I have had pearls on my mind! I have been wanting to do a post on pearls and have the title and even a video, but have not had the time to do the research! You have given me the push! Thank you for a wonderful post and links!


    • HI Lee,
      I’m so pleased that this information came to you at the right time! Pearls are just so awesome and we can’t get enough of them. And Antoinette is such an industry expert I love to quote her.
      Calla Gold

  3. Hi Calla,
    After our discussion about the extremely poor advice to “wash your pearls each time you wear them” that I overheard at a local jeweler, I’ve been thinking about pearls. I sure do love them! This was a super eye-opening, informative blog post and I will let others know about it.

  4. What great pearls of wisdom! There sure is a lot to know about a great pearl, and I appreciate being introduced to Antoinette Matlins. What a globe trotting pearl expert she is.
    I was interested in what you wrote about American Cultured Pearls too. Who knew? That would be something to collect for sure!
    As usual, Calla, you’ve done a great job breaking things down for us.

    • Renee,
      I loved sharing Antoinette Matlins again. We in the jewelry industry know her and love her, but the public is not all aware of her knowledge and her work in protesting against unethical practices and promoting new and rare treasures.
      As to the American Cultured Pearls, Tennessee is looking better to me as a vacay spot. I wonder if they’d let me tour the farm?
      Calla Gold

  5. what a boost to one’s ego, reading the nice words here! Just want to respond to a couple of the comments here. First, Calla, I’d see if Gina could arrange a tour of the farm for you — it’s in the Camden area.
    Re: washing pearls. It IS important to remove any surface irritants from pearls — such as cosmetics, soap residue, lotions, vinegar from a salad dressing that might have splattered onto your pearls without your being aware of it. But this does not mean “washing them.” I highly recommend using a damp white/light beige cloth such as a washcloth and gently rubbing the cloth carefully over all surfaces, of each pearl; rinse cloth and wring it out, and repeat. For tough spots that seem more difficult to remove, dampen a soft cloth with acetone — yes, acetone, the same thing that is used in fingernail polish remover. It is the only thing I use for my natural pearls; I do not use the fingernail polish remover, however, because it usually has additives that are not good for the pearls. It’s easy to get a large bottle at the pharmacy, for about $5. If you keep the cap screwed on well (it evaporates), it should last years! This is also what jewelers use to remove pearls from settings before working on the settings, or if they are changing a setting. Acetone will not hurt pearls at all, but any jewelry cleaner with AMMONIA in it, or vinegar, can be deadly to pearls.
    When it comes to cleaning strands, it is also important to wash them when you notice dirt in the area of the knots; that same dirt contains particles harder than the nacre on your pearls and can scratch your pearls and also, in really bad cases, cause “wear” on your pearls! So they must be washed about every 3-6 months if you wear them often. This can be done by immersing the strands in a bowl with warm, sudsy water–be sure to use a MILD liquid detergent such as ivory or the old-fashioned Palmolive dishwashing liquid–and let them soak for a few minutes. Then using a soft cloth, wash gently, especially in the area of the knots. Empty sudsy water and refill with cold, clear water and swish them around until all the soapy residue is gone. NOW THE TRICK. To dry them properly without stretching or shrinking the stringing material uses, wet a small, not too thick, kitchen towel (I like the linen tea towels I use for dishes) and then wring it out as well as you can. Lay the pearl strand across the towel and roll the pearls in the towel. When the towel is dry, your pearls will be ready to wear.
    Or, if you’re afraid to do this, have them re-strung EVERY 12 MONTHS, requesting that the pearls be cleaned before re-stringing. BE SURE TO COUNT THE PEARLS ON THE STRAND, AND TO INDICATE THE SIZE OF THE PEARLS. Some of my clients take a photo before leaving their pearls to be re-strung.
    I also use an ionic cleaner for all my pearls — this is NOT an ultrasonic cleaner — which uses a very mild cleaner and the ionizing action pulls dirt away from the pearls and also the knots. A home model is about $70, but it is great for ALL jewelry, from diamonds to emeralds, and metal too. But here again, if cleaning a strand, you need to take the steps described above to rinse and dry them.
    Ionic cleaners are hard to find, but the one I love is now sold by my publisher (at my suggestion) — gemstonepress.com.
    Hope this is helpful.

    • Antoinette,
      I am so happy that you are keeping track of the comments like this.
      Your advice is so appreciated. Although I handle many re-stringings of pearls this comment is a master class in pearl cleaning.
      I did not know this. There is a lot of weird pearl cleaning information out there.
      Thank you for hacking through the jungle of speculation and giving the best advice and explaining why. I think there is a set of linen tea towels in my future.
      And perhaps a tour of the Latendresse American Cultured Pearl Farm.
      Thank you also for talking about the Ionic Jewelry Cleaner!
      I’ve always wanted my blog to be about educating and this educating comment from you wins the blue ribbon for forwarding the conversation between real people who love jewelry and the experts who break down confusion and give great information.
      Thank you Antoinette!
      Calla Gold

  6. Hi Calla,

    Great post. Just saw your post on Google+ and thought I’d take a look. Really interesting. I really need to learn more about Pearls! Shows me how little I actually know!

    You really must write us a short piece on pearls for our site – our blog readers I’m sure would appreciate it here in the UK. Always looking for knowledgeable and respected ‘like minds’ in the industry to share great information with. Feel free to drop me an email if you fancy collaborating with some shared articles. Lovely part of the World btw. My wife and I took part of our Honeymoon in Santa Barbara back in 2004! All the best. Mark.

    • Hi Mark,
      Thanks for coming by the blog and liking it. Antoinette Matlins who wrote the interesting pearl information might be open to guest posting on pearls for you. She’s amazing in the depth of her knowledge. I love and sell and repair pearl necklaces but am not a PHD in pearls like Antoinette.
      Please come again!
      Calla Gold

  7. Dear Mark:
    Yes, I’d be happy to help “spread reliable information” on pearls, “estate” jewelry, diamonds or gemstones…or any other facet of this field. Calla’s blog is great, and if you are as committed as Calla, it would be a pleasure.
    You can reach me through my website (AntoinetteMatlins.com) or my publisher’s.
    Glad you enjoyed some of the dialogue here!

  8. Calla Gold, I really enjoyed this pearl information from Antoinette Matlins. Choosing pearls is something every woman wants to do. But we want to choose well so it’ll be still beautiful for the next generation. Calla, do you get those golden south sea pearls? I might be in the mood.

    • Hi Tracey,
      I’m glad you enjoyed Antoinette’s visit to the blog. I sure do sell golden South Sea pearls. It’d be my pleasure to share my selection with you.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  9. Calla Gold with Antoinette Matlins,
    I have loved having pearl necklaces for a long time. When I bought pearls before I don’t think much before I jumped. However, now I should think about this twice before buying. All the points you mentioned in your post about pearl selection are worth reading and I will follow these for sure.

  10. Reading through all these comments I’ve learned a lot.
    This is a great post for people who want to choose pearls properly.
    Antoinette Matlins comes across as real and knowledgeable.
    Thanks for the post Calla Gold.

    • Hi Sue,
      Thanks for stopping by. Antoinette Matlins is indeed real and very knowledgeable. She teaches all over the country her information on pearls and choosing and identifying gems. She’s also the author of numerous books.

  11. What a wonderfully informative article, Calla! You and Antoinette Matlins sure know how to educate us about all aspects of pearls. Thank you for sharing this with us!


    • Hi Linda,
      It’s great to have you come by the blog and read up about pearls. I’m so pleased you liked it. I’m such a fan of Antoinette’s too.
      Pearl Lover,
      Calla Gold

  12. Thanks for pointing out that pearl size is given in millimeters and is about the diameter of it. I’m going to be getting engaged soon, and we were thinking that it would be cool to have something other than a diamond in my ring. It seems like pearls would be really cool, and maybe we could do an oyster pearl opening to make it even more special no matter the size of it.

    • Hi Amanda,
      I love the idea of an oyster opening for the drama. However I feel that pearls though beautiful aren’t a great daily wear gemstone. I think the pearl of specialness should be reserved for perhaps a right hand ring since we tend to change our right hand rings. Therefore the pearl wouldn’t be as at risk for damage.
      There are many gemstones that can be used instead of diamond if that is the direction you want to go.
      Your Personal Jeweler

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