Pearl Characteristics Guide

Although there is no universally recognized grading system for pearls, six main factors typically determine the value, quality and beauty of a pearl: Color, Shape, Nacre, Luster, Surface and Size.

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Pearl color can range across the entire spectrum of the rainbow. When dealing with pearl quality and value, color typically refers to the combination of two specific factors: body color and overtone.  The body color of a pearl is its main, base color.  It can be categorized either as a warm-hue (purplish red to greenish-yellow) or cool-hue (reddish-purple to yellowish-green). Overtone is the overlying color that appears to coat the surface of the pearl and can be seen within certain angles of light. A good quality pearl shows a deep and evenly spread overtone.


Despite general belief, not all pearls are round. Pearls can form in a variety of different shapes, including round, semi-round, drop, oval, half-rounded, semi-baroque and baroque shapes. Baroque shaped pearls are entirely asymmetrical and irregularly shaped. Typically, rounder pearls are considered to be of higher quality and greater value.


Nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, is the iridescent material secreted by a mollusk to protect it from irritants, eventually creating a pearl.  It also lines the inside surface of an oyster shell. It is made mostly of calcium carbonate and conchiolin. Generally speaking, pearls with thicker nacre are considered to be of higher quality. 


Pearl luster refers to its light-reflecting ability, typically described as brilliance or glow. Good quality pearls shine brightly, and sharply reflect light.  If you were to look at a high quality pearl, you would be able to see your own reflection.  The cloudier, chalkier or duller the pearl, the poorer the luster, and the lower the quality of the pearl.


It is widely accepted that no pearl will ever be completely "flawless", but the highest quality pearls have nearly perfect, clean, blemish-free surfaces.  When examining a pearl, check for spots, dents, cracks, discolorations, or any other imperfections.  The surface of a pearl impacts its reflective power and therefore any bumps or flaws will typically lower its value.


To determine the size of a pearl, its diameter is measured in millimeters. If the pearl is not a perfect sphere, it is measured by the shortest diameter.   It is important to remember that size alone can never determine the value of a pearl.

Before you start your shopping process, we recommend that you visit our extensive Jewelry Learning Center to learn more about engagement rings and wedding rings.