If you are a pearl lover, you probably have wondered why a single pearl pendant often costs the same as a whole strand of pearls? If so, you are not alone. This is one of the questions that bother most people when they start shopping for pearls the first time.
As the single most dominant type of pearl on the market, freshwater pearls are everyone’s favourite for good reasons: with quality and variety being identical to natural pearls, freshwater pearls come at a fraction of natural pearls prices. The only difference is the nucleus: freshwater pearls have one while natural pearls don’t. But this is only a difference distinguishable by X-ray and makes no difference to the look and style of the jewellery. This is a fact only investors in rare pearl items would be interested in.
Now back to lovely, affordable freshwater pearls. There are three main factors that define the price of a pearl:
Factor 1 - the size. Freshwater pearls usually come anywhere between 3mm (tiny rice pearls) to 17mm (very large coin pearls), with a half millimetre difference counting as a new size, ie. ’7.5mm, 8.0mm, 8.5mm’ and so on. Round pearls rarely come above 12mm. The larger the pearl, the more expensive they become, and here’s the thing: starting from 8mm onwards, each increasing millimetre could mean a huge increase in the price, i.e. a 9mm round pearl could cost twice as much as 8mm, and 10mm round pearl again twice as much as the 9mm one, and so on. This is because the larger the pearl is, the harder it is to farm them. Most oysters would ‘give up’ once the pearls reach 10mm or 11mm.
Factor 2 – the shape. Pearls come in a large variety of shapes, from perfectly round (also the most expensive) to oval, button, pear, teardrop, to ‘potato’ (i.e. irregular but still largely round), to coin (big flat disc shape), to other completely irregular shapes. The more regular the shape, the more use a pearl has in jewellery design, but as you would have guessed by now, the closer to ‘perfectly round’ a pearl becomes, the more expensive, and this factor overrides factor 1. i.e. a 10mm perfectly round pearl would cost much more even than a 12mm oval or potato shaped pearl.
Factor 3 – the nacre. Pearl nacre quality are expressed in two aspects: surface flaws (scratches and other imperfections which come very often and naturally as a pearl is grown within the oyster shell) and overtone (this is how the pearl surface reflects light. This goes from high shine to dull, depending on the quality of the water and how well the oysters are taken care of). Most of the pearls would be born with some kind of imperfection or other. If too much surface damage, the pearl is most likely to end up whipped into pearl powder and used for medical or cosmetic purposes. Better ones but with limited surface flaws are drilled through the middle and used in strand pearls, while the best and the largest ones with almost no surface flaws are used for pearl pendants.
Now why does a single pearl pendant cost the same as a whole strand of pearl necklace, even though both of them are of very good quality? Two reasons: 1) the pearl used in pendant is bound to be at least 2mm larger than the strand pearl – you would barely notice as a pearl seems smaller on its own, but if you use one pearl from a strand in a pendant it would look ridiculously small. 2) the pearls in the strand, even though very good quality, would never in fact be, perfect. These are the pearls with 1 or 2 surface flaws and are drilled through the spot of the flaws and presented in a strand, thus covering the original flaws. This is completely acceptable in pearl trade, but does create confusion among pearl buyers, as once drilled through, the strand pearls look just as perfect as the pendant pearl, while the latter costs a similar price as the whole strand.