How to Decide on Your Pearl Engagement Ring
History & Symbolism of the Pearl
- Pearls were considered the most prized possessions of Chinese royalty as far back as 2300 BC
- Ancient Egyptians revered pearls and insisted on being buried with them
- Ancient Vedic texts from India describe the discovery of the first pearl by the god Krishna himself
- Ancient Greeks valued pearls for their unrivaled beauty, often using them at weddings, where they were said to bring love
- In Rome, pearls were the ultimate symbol of wealth, prestige, and social standing. Only persons above a certain rank were allowed to wear pearl jewelry, and pearls were frequently used triumphal processions
- The Bible includes many references to pearls, including Jesus' story about the "pearl of great price" - an object so valuable that a wealthy man would give up everything he owns to possess it
- An Old Arabic legend conjectures that the pearls formed when moonlight filled dew drops fall from the night sky into oceans and are swallowed by oysters. Pearls are described in the Koran as one of the greatest treasures provided in Paradise
Trace the Origins of Your Pearl
Varieties of Pearls Used in Jewelry
Cortez Pearls originate from two species of mollusks that inhabit the Pacific coastline. Cortez pearls either display an opalescent rainbow-like orient or intense overtones. Body colors range from both warm and cool tones of white, silver-gray, bronze to black, with several overtones of green, purple, blue, gold and violet.
Discover the Right Style For You
Solitaire: this classic design uses a single pearl and can be set in any type of metal from sterling silver to gold.
Accent: A central pearl accented on either side by diamonds or other gemstones. It has become one of the most popular styles.
Halo: A central pearl encircled by diamonds or other gemstones to form an intricate halo effect.
Cluster: a group of smaller pearls forms an amorphous center. May not be listed under "engagement rings" due to it's non-traditional appearance.
Eternity: Small pearls are set into a band that wraps around the entire ring. Pearls may be of uniform size or graded.
Choose a Complimentary Shade
White pearls have long been regarded as most popular. White pearls from the Akoya pearl oyster were the first to be commercially produced early in the 20th century by the Mikimoto pearl company of Japan. Today, white pearls are found in every pearl variety, even pearls from the atolls of French Polynesia, which are famed for their more common natural-dark colors.
Freshwater pearls offer a range of natural pastel colors rarely found in other types of pearls. Their colors vary from a stark white to strong pink to deep lavender. The rarest of all freshwater pearl colors are referred to as exotic, which include tones of green and gold.
Black pearls are relatively new to the scene, but have rapidly become the preferred choice of for the fashion-forward set. They are available in most pearl types, but occur naturally only in Tahitian pearls and in exotic natural pearls. Black akoya and freshwater pearls do not come by the colors naturally, but instead are treated with organic dyes.
When it comes to color, the general rule is to complement the skin tone. Women with fair to light colored skin often find rose overtones look the best, while women with dark skin or deep tan tend to look better in black or cream overtones.
Be Open to Unique Pearl Shapes
Round Pearls are rarely perfect spheres unless they are of gem quality or imitation. The longer the pearl remains within the oyster or mussel the more chance there is of it developing an irregular shape. Very large round pearls are uncommon - and truly expensive. Even pearls cultured from a spherical bead have a hard time maintaining a perfectly round shape as they grow.
Off-round pearls appear 'roundish' to the casual observer but have a slightly oval or flattened shape. They can still have excellent qualities in terms of luster or lack of blemish.
Button Pearls are round on one side but somewhat flat on the other, traditionally lending itself to the manufacture of buttons and clasps.
Oval Pearls are sometimes known as rice pearls. They comes from the very early days of Chinese freshwater pearl production when large numbers of low quality pearls entered the market and were derided as 'rice-crispies' after the cereal. Oval pearls can form when two pearls in the same mollusk join together.
Biwa Pearls traditionally came from Lake Biwa - a large freshwater lake near Kyoto, Japan. This was once the hub of the Japanese freshwater pearl industry. Actual pearl production in Biwa ceased in the 1980's due to industrial pollution, but the term had synonymous with all freshwater pearls regardless of shape. The pearls shown here are also called stick pearls.
Avoid Damaging Your Pearl
Damaged pearls loose their luster and form dull, cloudy patches. Occasionally these can be repaired through intensive polishing, but more often than not the damage is permanent.
What substances are responsible for this damage?
- Acids in personal grooming products such as hairspray, perfume, lotion, makeup, etc.
- Exposure to chlorine from swimming pools and even tap water. The latter is purified using a particular type of chlorine similar to what you might find in household bleach. This type chlorine is highly oxidizing, and can destroy a pearl’s luster on contact
- Contact with food and beverages like lemonade or vinaigrette salad dressing are often sufficient to put pearls at risk
Apart from these chemical reactions, you will want to take care to avoid scratches and other hard physical contact which can easily mar the soft surface of your prized pearl.
Learn to Clean Your Pearl Engagement Ring
- First, fill a plastic bowl with one cup of ammonia. Drop your pearl jewelry in, and gently swirl back and forth for 30 seconds. Be careful not to leave gold or silver plated jewelry in this ammonia for too long, because it can damage the finish. Sterling silver and real gold should not suffer any damage.
- Then rinse your jewelry under clean running water until it no longer feels ‘slimy.’ Place a clean washcloth over the drain hold to avoid accidentally loosing your slippery pearl down the drain!
- Finally, pat your pearls dry with a clean cloth.
Pearl Buying Tips
- Only purchase from a company with a solid return policy. Pearls always look great in a photograph or showroom but may appear different in natural lighting, so it's important to be able to exchange or return your pearls if necessary.
- Purchase from a retailer that specializes in pearls. 99% of all jewelers are uneducated; misinformed or simply ignorant when it comes to cultured pearls, many don't understand the product they are selling.
- Don't get hung up on brand names; Branded companies do sell high quality pearls, but by no means do they have a monopoly on high quality pearls. Savings of thousands of dollars can be had if you do your research.
- A simple method to check if a pearl is real or imitation is the "Tooth Test". Gently slide the pearl across the front of your teeth; if it feels smooth then it's a fake. A real pearl will usually have a slightly rough or gritty texture from tiny scale-like imperfections in its outer layers of nacre. Fake pearls made from glass or plastic will usually be almost perfectly smooth.
- Rub the pearls against each other. Hold a few pearls in your fingers and gently rub them against each other. Feel for the slight sensation of friction. Real pearls will usually generate a little friction when they rub against each other because their outer layers of nacre are not perfectly smooth. Fake pearls, on the other hand, often have smooth coatings and will usually glide past each other when rubbed together. Take a close look at your hands after this test. When two pearls rub against each other, their outer layers often erode a small amount. If you notice a fine, powdery, white residue after rubbing your pearls, this is probably powdered nacre — a sign that the pearls are real.
- Check whether the pearls are perfectly round. Because they're products of nature, every real pearl is slightly different, just like snowflakes or fingerprints. Most pearls won't be perfect spheres — they'll usually be slightly oblong or have minor defects. If your pearls look perfectly round to you, there's a good chance they're artificial. It is possible for real pearls to be perfectly round. However, examples of these are very rare and usually fetch a high price. If you are not sure whether a pearl is perfectly round or not, try carefully rolling it on a flat surface. Imperfect pearls won't consistently roll in a straight line.
- Feel for coolness to the touch. For this test, you'll need a few pearls that have been sitting out — not ones you've been wearing. Hold the pearls in your hand and concentrate on the way they feel against your skin. Real pearls should feel noticeably cool for a few seconds before they warm up. The feeling is similar to what you'd get from stepping barefoot onto a marble floor. Plastic pearls, on the other hand, will be about room temperature and will warm up more quickly. Good-quality fake glass pearls may still give the "cool" sensation. Verify your results with other tests if this is the first one you've attempted.
- Feel the weight of the pearl in your hand. Carefully bounce one or two pearls in your hand to get an idea of how much they weigh. Most real pearls feel somewhat heavy for their size. On the other hand, fakes (especially plastic pearls) will have a light, insubstantial feel. For obvious reasons, this test isn't perfect — judging the weight of a few small pearls can be tricky. For best results, you may want to compare your pearls with a set you know are real or fake. Always verify with another test no matter how sure you are of a pearl's weight.
Determinants of Pearl Value
- Pearl Shape: When dealing with cultured pearls there are several factors that will determine the overall value of a pearl. The biggest factor is shape. Round pearls almost always command the highest price, but many love the uniqueness of baroque and off-round pearls as well.
- Pearl Surface: The surface of a pearl is another important factor to consider; the cleaner the pearl's surface the better. A pearl is a natural gemstone so there will always be some form of imperfection, but as long as they are minor they won"t be noticeable when worn.
- Pearl Luster: Related to surface is luster; a poor surface will negatively impact the luster of a pearl. High luster is what all pearl buyers are looking for; a high quality pearl with high luster will be almost mirror-like in appearance. A pearl's luster is what makes a pearl "pop" and stand out.
- Pearl Size: Last but possibly most important is size, and in the case of pearls, size matters. A good rule of thumb is to choose pearls 7mm and larger for adult women and keep anything smaller reserved for young girls and teenagers.
Choose the Right Ring Setting
Notes on Buying Antique Pearl Rings
With the 100 years or older consideration, most antique pearls are natural rather than cultured, as true pearl culturing techniques did not take off until after 1917 when they were patented by Tokichi Nishikawa and Tatsuhei Mise. With this in mind, most Mikimoto pearls are vintage rather than antique as well, as they began culturing pearls in the early 1917. However, some Akoya cultured pearls are considered to be antiques as they are 100 years old. Antique pearls include freshwater and saltwater natural pearls, cultured Akoya pearls, and come in a variety of shapes, colours, and sizes, usually dependent upon the type of oyster used to create the pearl.