While we often turn to professionals in respective industries to determine the prices of our valuable, private belongings, it can be useful to have some idea of their worth beforehand. Because we truly dig looking into specialties and infrequently answered questions, we’re going to have a look at the average value of pearls, determining the value of these precious little items before you ever have to head to a specialist.
Precious stones, gems, and other beautiful things gifted to us by the natural world carry their own special types of value, and this often means that they can fetch an impressive price when brought to jewelers or auctions. Our brief guide will help you to decide what you have on your hands–imitation pearls, or genuine. We’ll even throw in some pointers that will help you to know where your pearls came from!
Note: The final word on your pearls’ value should be obtained from an industry expert, as a rule. No amount of personal, online research can match the knowledge of a professional.
Pearls are one of those things that many people feel that they thoroughly understand, but like any other precious natural resource, their trade, value, and even sourcing have all sorts of rules and nuance that aren’t widely known or immediately apparent. It takes some digging to ascertain their value, but general knowledge will most certainly help you along the way.
Like diamonds and other valuable stones, however, pearls are perfectly capable of fooling their owners into thinking they’re more valuable than they are. That’s because imitation pearls are actually quite a well-refined item, designed to dissuade cursory examination and blend right in with the real ones. As we’ll see, they’re fairly prolific, too.
One of the first roadblocks that owners of a few strands of pearls run into is the fact that expertise can be difficult to find. Not every jeweler you meet is going to be able to identify or correctly appraise them. Unfortunately, the reason that expertise is difficult to find is the fact that pearls just aren’t that valuable, any longer. A majority of people assume that keepsakes, heirlooms, gems, and other beautiful things must accrue some value just by being old and well cared-for, but this isn’t the case with pearls. The Pearl Market expounds upon this, revealing that better pearls than people were buying several decades ago can now be purchased for a fraction of the price, due to growing and refining techniques.
This resource also reveals that the majority of pearls currently in trade are fakes. There’s a reason for this, and it has to do with when pearls were extremely fashionable.
We’ll be discussing some of the ways that you can identify imitation pearls momentarily, but because pearls couldn’t be afforded by a great majority of people during the time that they were at the height of their fashion, the imitation industry boomed. Not only were a vast quantity of imitation pearls sold, but they were designed to mimic the real thing as closely as they could. After all, they were designed to be a disguise–the imitation pearls supplanted the knowledge that the owner wasn’t as wealthy as someone wearing genuine pearls.
In the same way that genuine pearls aren’t all going to look the same, so too are imitation pearls made by different means. We use the word “imitation” rather than “fake,” because not all man-made pearls are created solely from artificial materials.
While some are made from glass, beads, and other fabricated substances, others are made from actual mollusk shells. The natural elements that contribute to the pearlescent luster of genuine pearls can lend the same qualities to the man-made varieties. This is excellent for people who are looking for good imitation pearls, but significantly less so when you’re trying to discern whether or not your pearls are real.
Frequently, the means by which they’re made is entirely unknown unless the pearls are examined with microscopic scrutiny or chemical analysis, but there are a few fallible methods of testing them on your own. One frequently-touted method of telling a pearl’s authenticity is to rub the pearl against the narrow edge of one of your teeth. This method actually works, but it’s not guaranteed to give you a positive response 100% of the time. Man-made pearls will be smooth, but genuine pearls will almost always feel a bit coarse against that tooth. This is due to the crystalline structures that make the pearl.
According to The Pearl Market, you can also measure each of your pearls to help generate some certainty of their authenticity. Though this method also isn’t entirely foolproof, especially large pearls have been determined to be fake through this testing. Typical pearls, harvested during the height of their fashion, were between 4mm and 6mm in diameter. In order to make imitation pearl jewelry more exotic and noticeable, fake pearls with diameters of 7mm or larger were often strung as the central focus of imitation pearl necklaces. The rest of the pearls on the string would be smaller and smaller towards the end of the string. Usually, these smaller pearls were 3mm or less in diameter. An especially large pearl (a 7mm diameter or larger one, for example) would be quite expensive, and even in today’s market, quite valuable…unless it’s an imitation, which is the far more likely scenario.
Determining whether or not a pearl is genuine goes hand-in-hand with knowing whether or not it’s an imitation, of course. As said above, too, the current low point in the market for pearls–genuine or imitation–doesn’t help the potential owners of such treasures to get them easily identified.
In the same way that certain qualities can give away imitation pearls fairly quickly, so too can certain things tell you if a pearl is genuine. There’s a larger discussion to be had about what the average person expects a pearl to look like, but it suffices to say that natural items are never going to genuinely appear as perfect as they’re expected to.
One of the first giveaways that will tell you if a string of pearls is genuine or imitation is their shape. Take a look at each, individual pearl. Measure the diameters of them, using the information shared above. Genuine pearls are rarely “perfect” in their roundness, and often possess flaws or inconsistencies that give away their natural origin. Occasionally, you will run into the rare “perfect” pearl or two, but a full string of genuine pearls that are all perfect in roundness is a virtually impossible thing to find.
It’s also rare to find pearls that don’t have flaws in their luster. On genuine pearls, certain parts of their surface–the outer layer of the nacre–will reflect light differently than others. Man-made pearls will reflect light in the same way around the entire, perfect sphere. This sort of perfection–especially when you see it recreated across an entire set of pearls–is a clear sign that you’re dealing with something that nature did not create.
Advice for Selling and Buying
Here’s where things get tricky, and there isn’t exactly an abundance of “good” news for people who are trying to sell a set of pearls, or gauge them for authenticity. While there’s a longstanding tradition of pearls being relatively valuable and sought after, the truth of the matter is that their current value doesn’t match up with the legend, so to speak.
You’re probably not going to get the money you want for them unless they’re very valuable pearls, or were owned by someone of widely-recognized significance. Tough but true!
However, you’ll need to decide before proceeding whether you’re interested in sale or replacement value for the pearls in question. Sale price is going to differ from the replacement value in the amount of money that an appraiser deems them worthy. Usually, you’re going to want to trust a licensed jeweler to do this, preferably one who has dealt with pearls before.
Be prepared to spend money on any professional test, however. These services can be expensive, and even though you’ll certainly learn whether or not your pearls are genuine, the cost of the test can occasionally become more than the pearls themselves are actually worth!
Because pearls are rarely of the value that people think they are, anymore, it can be difficult to decide whether you should sell them, or keep them. If the pearls in question are a hand-me-down, a family heirloom, or possess other personal significance, it might be better to simply keep them in the family. This will save you the cost of an appraisal, and might end up being more satisfying in the end. However, if you are determined to sell them, be sure to source your jeweler carefully, and make sure to document anything discovered about your pearls.
Though the market for natural items like pearls may be difficult to nail down, we can almost certainly say that your pearls–imitation or genuine–won’t be worth as much as you’d like them to be. Their potential value varies far too much to quote a reliable, expert answer, but the methods we’ve described in the above guide should help you to determine their legitimacy, and also provide you with a few pointers in the case that you’d like to sell them.