How Much Are Pearls Worth?

The ultimate guide to pearls worth?

Pearls are not only in vogue and a summertime favorite, but they are an undisputed classic. If there is one staple piece of fine jewelry that a woman should have, it’s pearls. But not all pearls are created equal. As pearls are the only organic gemstone there are differences that need to be taken into account when looking to purchase pearl jewelry.

Pearls are unique because they are the only gemstone formed within a living creature. Since natural pearls are rare and difficult to recover from the ocean’s depths, man invented the technique of culturing salt and freshwater pearls from mollusks carefully seeded with irritants similar to those produced by nature.

Cultured pearls come in many beautiful colors, ranging from pale cream and white to rose, lilac, green, gold, gray and black. There are four main types of cultured pearls — Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian and Freshwater — each with unique qualities that separates it from the others.

What are the different type of pearls available in the market?

The Freshwater pearl. This is the most affordable pearl with prices starting usually around $40.

The Akoya Pearl is your classic pearl, slightly smaller in size than a freshwater pearl, and can be found usually in white or cream colors. These pearls are found off the coast of Japan.

The South Sea pearl is large in size with colors in the realm of white, cream, and gold.

The Tahitian pearl is probably the most unique and interesting of the pearl varieties. With its dark color ranging from black to metallic colors. It is considered an exotic and very valuable type of pearl.

What determines the pearl value?

The qualities that determine the overall value of a natural or cultured pearl or a piece of pearl jewelry are size, shape, color, luster, surface quality, nacre quality, and—for jewelry with two or more pearls—matching.

Size: When other value factors are equal, larger pearls are rarer and more valuable than smaller pearls of the same type.

Shape: Round is the most difficult shape to culture, making it the rarest cultured pearl shape and—if all other factors are equal—also generally the most valuable. There are exceptions, though. Well-formed pear, oval, or baroque (irregularly shaped) cultured pearls are also prized by pearl lovers.

Color: Natural and cultured pearls occur in a broad range of hues. There are warm hues like yellow, orange, and pink, and cool hues like blue, green, and violet. Pearls have a wide range of tone from light to dark. Pearl colors tend to be muted, with a soft, subtle quality.

Pearl color can have three components. Body color is the pearl’s dominant overall color. Overtone is one or more translucent colors that lie over a pearl’s body color. And orient is a shimmer of iridescent rainbow colors on or just below a pearl’s surface. All pearls display body color, but only some show overtone, orient, or both.

 Pearl Color By Pearl Type

  • Tahitian - peacock, aubergine, blue, purple, and brown
  • Akoya – white and silver
  • Freshwater – white and lavender
  • South Sea – silver and golden

Try to look for the presence of overtone or orient the next time you look for fine quality pearls. And be very careful with those that are artificially colored to mimic some of the high-value colors mentioned above. Pearls with dye treatments are worth less than those with natural colors.

Natural vs. Cultured Pearls

Natural Pearls: Made when a grain of sand or an irritant gets inside the shell of an oyster, mussel, or clam by chance. The oyster’s defense system is set off, and the irritant is coated in a fluid called nacre. Layers are added upon layers until that small grain is transformed into a smooth pearl.

Cultured Pearls: Although cultured pearls are not made by chance in nature, they are truly organic and should not be compared to a natural pearl as a lab-created diamond is to a mined one. These are simply made on a farm, but the process is a tedious and difficult one, if simple in explanation: with the utmost care, the farmer places the irritant into the shell to begin the pearl forming process.

Regardless of how pearls are formed, whether natural or cultured, most pearls harvested have an average to low quality. Fine quality pearls are very rare. This is largely due to the nature of pearl growth inside the oyster. The oyster secretes nacre slowly to coat the intruder layers after layers. It is the same substance that makes mother-of-pearl, the shiny surface on the inner side of the shell. As an organic gem, these layers of nacre are not always evenly distributed to form a tight structure. Hence the quality varies drastically. In other words, most natural pearls, if found, rarely have qualities that worth a fortune.

The most valuable natural pearls that have achieved phenomenal prices, apart from their historical significance, all possess extraordinary qualities that make them beautiful. Most of the time, you’ll only find them in museums or high-end auctions.

The main difference between the cultured and natural pearls lies in the external irritant that causes a pearl to form inside the oyster shell. In the case of natural pearls, this external intruder can be a grain of sand or a parasite, and the pearl is formed completely without any human assistance. Whereas for cultured pearls, the irritant is either a piece of tissue from another oyster or a bead that is placed by pearl farmers to encourage the growth of a pearl.

Pearl Shapes

  • • Round Pearl: The pearl is a perfect sphere. This is the most traditional of the shapes, and it is often used in pearl strand necklaces.
  • • Near Round Pearl: The pearl has an overall round in shape, but may have a flattened or elongated part.
  • • Button Pearl: A pearl that is completely flat.
  • • Baroque Pearl: The pearl shape is irregular in shape and a-symmetrical, and is often used in modern or more abstract fine jewelry pieces.

Pearl Surface: Like a diamond judged for its clarity, a pearl is judged by the cleanliness of its surface. Because this is an organic gemstone, irregularities are common and to be expected, but the more perfect a surface is, the higher the quality of the pearl.

Pearl Luster

Pearl luster is the intensity and sharpness of the light reflected from a pearl’s surface. In other words, it shows how bright and shiny a pearl is. Pearl luster is considered the most important quality attribute of all the 7 pearl value factors. Fine quality pearls will always display high luster with bright and sharp reflections.

Buyers want to look for a high-luster pearl when in the market. Luster is related to the surface and a high-luster pearl will have a near mirror-like sheen to it. If it is dull, then the pearl has a low luster.

Of the various pearl value factors, luster might be the most important. Luster is what gives a natural or cultured pearl its unique beauty.

  • Excellent – Reflections appear bright and sharp
  • Very Good – Reflections appear bright and near sharp
  • Good – Reflections are bright but not sharp, and slightly hazy around the edges
  • Fair – Reflections are weak and blurred

When other value factors are the same, the higher the luster, the more valuable the pearl is. The luster of some fine-quality pearls can be so intense that it is almost metallic.

Pearl Size

The average pearl size is typically between 2mm-18mm. Pearl size cannot be valued on its own and must be judged by taking pearl type into account. In order to have a better understanding of how it affects the value of a pearl, let’s take a look at the typical range of sizes that each pearl type can grow into.

  • Akoya – 2.0 mm to 10mm
  • Freshwater – 4.0mm to 14mm
  • Tahitian – 9.0mm to 14mm
  • South Sea – 8.0mm to 20mm

Generally speaking, when you compare sizes within the same pearl type, the larger the pearl is, the more valuable it is when all other value factors are the same.

Genuine pearls


Pearl types and market value

Tahitian Pearls are considered the most exotic variety with the widest range of dark natural colors. Also known as the “black pearls” or “black South Sea pearl”, they are grown in the black-lipped oyster called Pinctada margaritifera cumingii, and are indigenous to French Polynesia, Fiji, the Sea of Cortez, and the Cook Islands.

Typical Price Range:

  • Low: below US$150
  • Average: US$150 – US$800
  • Fine Quality: US$800 – US$40,000 

Akoya Pearls are the classic, round white pearls that most people are familiar with. They’re mainly cultivated in Japan and China in a saltwater oyster species called Pinctada fucata martensii. Natural Akoya pearls grown in this species are extremely rare.

Typical Price Range

  • Low: below US$150
  • Average: US$150 – US$500
  • Fine Quality: US$500 – US$10,000 

Freshwater Pearls are the most widely available pearls seen in jewelry today. Hence, they’re the most affordable types of pearls in the market. Freshwater pearls are commonly grown inside the Hyriopsis cumingii mollusc in rivers, lakes, and ponds in China, and their production has also started to grow in Southeast Asia in recent years.

Typical Price Range:

  • Low: below US$30
  • Average: US$30 – US$65
  • Fine Quality: US$65 – US$7,000 

South Sea Pearls are the most prized cultured pearls in the world. They’re farmed in the largest pearl oyster Pinctada maxima in Australia, Burma, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Typical Price Range:

  • Low: below US$150
  • Average: US$150 – US$650
  • Fine Quality: US$650 – US$85,000 

Natural Saltwater Pearls come from the Pinctada radiata and Pinctada margaritifera varieties and are native to the Arabian Gulf. These natural pearls are incredibly rare and their value can vary significantly from US$350 to over US$3,000 per pearl.

What Is The Most loved Pearl Shape?

Without a doubt, the most valuable shape for a pearl is perfectly round regardless of what kind of pearl it is. Now, this is tricky. Because to be considered as a perfectly round pearl, the variance in diameter measured from several directions needs to be no more than 2%cv. This is the rarest shape in both cultured and natural pearls.