Pearls are some of the most beautiful and unique gemstones in the world. Unlike other stones that form in the earth, they are formed organically in living creatures. Every type of pearl forms in a specific species of oyster, and each oyster is found in a different part of the world in different climates. Pearls come in a wide range of colors, sizes, lusters and more, and there are several variables that determine exactly how each and every pearl is formed.

pearl beads and pearls

If you make jewelry using pearl beads, it is not always easy to distinguish a high-quality pearl from one of lesser quality. Learning how to do so is extremely important, though, as it will prevent you from overpaying for your supplies and allow you to provide quality products and reasonable prices to your customers. Keep reading to discover a few tips on how to determine the quality of your pearl beads.

Types of Pearls

There are three primary types of pearls that are used in jewelry-making. The three types are freshwater, Akoya and South Sea (also sometimes referred to as white, golden or Tahitian). Each type of pearl has its own value, but the quality is generally determined based on certain characteristics.

Pearl Size

various pearls

The size of a pearl is one of the most common indicators of quality and value. Tiny pearls are often 1mm in diameter or smaller, which some of the largest pearls in the world measure more than 20mm. Generally speaking, the importance of the size varies on the pearl type. A high-quality pearl that is larger than usual for its type is worth substantially more than one that is of average size or smaller. Today, the average pearl for jewelry-making ranges in size between 6.5mm and 11mm.

Pearl Shape

Because they are organic, pearls form in a wide variety of shapes. While we most commonly think of perfectly round spheres when we think of pearls, that certainly is not the only type. In fact, perfectly round pearls are extremely rare. Of course, the closer to round a stone is, the higher its quality.

Pearl shapes are broken down into three categories. There are spherical ones that are perfectly or nearly perfectly round, symmetrical pearls that would form mirror images if sliced in half and baroque, or irregularly shaped, pearls that are non-symmetrical. Round and near round pearls are highly sought after and valuable. The other shapes, however, still have value and are widely used in jewelry-making. Symmetrical shapes are typically seen as being of higher quality, but some shapes are so unique that they are actually more valuable than symmetrical pearls.

Pearl Surface Quality

The surface quality of a pearl plays a huge role in determining the overall quality of the gemstone. Because they are organic, it is natural that they often have surface blemishes. Pearls are classified as clean, lightly blemished, moderately blemished or heavily blemished. Those that are categorized as clean are perfect or very close to it. Lightly blemished stones have minor surface irregularities or blemishes, moderately blemished stones have noticeable surface blemishes and heavily blemished stones have obvious surface irregularities. Of course, the more blemished a pearl is, the lower its quality.

Determining if a Pearl Bead Is Real

When making jewelry using pearl beads, one of your primary concerns is likely whether the stone you are working with is real or not. When you buy pearls from a reputable distributor like Beads of Cambay, you can rest assured that your order will contain only real gemstones. When buying elsewhere, however, you never know.

You’ve probably heard of the “pearl tooth test,” but you may not have the correct information regarding how to do it. While popular culture would have you believe that you can tell whether a pearl is real by biting down on it, doing so could actually cause you to chip a tooth.

Natural pearl

Instead, take the pearl and rub it along the biting edge of your tooth. If it feels gritty and rough, congratulations! You have a real pearl. If, on the other hand, it feels completely smooth, it is not a real pearl. Because real pearls form through a process during which layers of sediment known as nacre build up, they are not smooth. Each layer has scales and ridges that can be seen under a microscope and felt against your teeth.

At Beads of Cambay, we carry cultured freshwater and saltwater pearl beads in a variety of shapes and colors. If you are looking for stunning gemstones to use in your next jewelry creation, browse our selection today!