gemstone spotlight

A Guide to Buying Pearls

If there was an “it” gem of 2023, it would have to be pearls.

From runway fashion to red carpet events, these iridescent beauties have come along way from their “Breakfast at Tiffany's” days.

Of course, there are pearls and there are pearls. So what makes one ‘better’ than another one? And how can you tell the difference?

Scroll down for an introduction to the Autore South Sea Cultured Pearl Classification Guide, alongside a few personal tips from Matthew Ely.

Baroque Pearl Necklace

Matthew Ely's Top 3 Tips for Buying Pearls

1. Can you see your reflection?

“The easiest thing is to check out your reflection. Can you see yourself clearly in the pearl? If the answer is ‘yes’, then the lustre is really good. As a general rule, the more of a mirror the pearl is, the more valuable it will be.”

2. Trust Your Gut

“Similar to coloured gemstones, not every person will fall in love with the same pearl. Quite the opposite. Pearls invite individualism – from Keshis to Baroques to your classic rounds, white South Sea Pearls, black Tahitian Pearls or even gold pearls from the gold-lip Pinctada Maxima oyster. Trust your gut."

3. Looking for perfection?

“If you are seeking ‘perfection’ there are some key things to look for. First, inspect the surface of the pearl for any blemishes or imperfections. While these can add character, a pearl with a flawless surface generally indicates superior quality. For example, we’d only show A, B1 or B2 surface grades in store, which is a reference to Autore’s South Sea Pearl Classification Guide."

Autore South Sea Cultured Pearl Classification Guide

Each pearl at Matthew Ely Jewellery is judged and valued according to Autore’s South Sea Cultured Pearl Classification Guide. This is based on the five Autore S’s – Shine, Surface, Shape, Shade and Size.

18ct Yellow Gold, Baroque Pearl and diamond earrings

1. Shine

The shine, or lustre, of a pearl is one of its most captivating features. It refers to the brilliance or reflectivity of the pearl’s surface, which is a reflection of the nacre’s thickness and the pearl’s overall quality. In general, the more reflective the pearl (i.e. the more you can see yourself in its surface), the more valuable it is.

All South Sea pearls will fall into one of the below categories.

I BRILLIANT LUSTRE – “producing a mirror reflection”
II EXCELLENT LUSTRE – “producing a very clear reflection”
III GOOD LUSTRE – “producing a good reflection”
IV AVERAGE LUSTRE – “the reflection appears opaque”
V POOR LUSTRE – “producing very little reflection"

18ct Yellow Gold, Autore Baroque Pearl & Diamond Earrings

18ct White Gold, South Sea Pearl & Diamond Necklace

2. Surface

The surface of a pearl should be carefully examined for any imperfections or blemishes. This includes any spots, pits or cracks that may impact its overall value. A smooth, unblemished surface is typically the most sought after, reflecting the meticulous cultivation and care taken during the pearl’s formation.

Round South Sea Pearls are generally categorised as per below.

A: Blemish free or very small blemishes, hardly discernable by the naked eye
B1: One to four visible blemishes concentrated on one small area of the pearl
B2: Blemishes visible on 30% of the pearl’s surface, not necessarily in the same area
C1: Blemishes visible on 50% or more of the pearl’s surface, not
necessarily in the same area
Heavy blemishes on the majority of the pearl’s surface
Heavy or deep blemishes and/or thin coating of nacre

Image: 18ct White Gold, Autore Pearl & Diamond Necklace

18ct Yellow Gold, Diamond & Keshi Pearl Ring

3. Shape

Pearls come in a variety of shapes including round, near round, drop, button, Baroque and circle. While classic rounds have historically been the most sought after, the shape selected really depends on individual preference. Baroque pearls have gained increasing popularity in recent years, with their organic shape and artistic charm appealing to a new demographic.

Regardless of what shape you prefer, look for pearls with well-defined and symmetrical contours.

Image: 18ct Yellow Gold, Autore Keshi Pearl & Diamond Ring

Autore South Sea Pearl & Diamond Drop Earrings

4. Shade

Pearls can range in colour from luminous white and creamy tones to delicate pink, gold or even black. These hues cam be influenced by the type of mollusc the pearl comes from, water conditions, and even the presence of trace elements, making each pearl truly one of a kind.

18ct White Gold, Diamond & Autore South Sea Pearl Earrings

Baroque Pearl Necklace

5. Size

Pearls are evaluated based on their diameter and measured in millimetres. From delicate seed pearls to large statement pieces, size can play a significant role in the allure of these natural treasures. Once again, it all comes down to individual preference and personal style.

Autore Baroque South Sea Pearl Strand

So, which type of pearl would you choose? See the complete Matthew Ely Jewellery Collection below or book an appointment to see more at the boutique.