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Your Pearl Jewelry Primer: Pearls Can Be Both Elegant and Affordable

When it comes to jewelry, there are few accessories more elegant than pearl jewelry. Unfortunately, many people think that pearl jewelry is out of their price range, except perhaps for once-in-a-lifetime pearl bridal jewelry. The truth is, a pearl necklace, pearl stud earrings, fashion pearl jewelry, or even a pearl jewelry set can be affordable if you shop wisely. Here are some guidelines so you can know what to look for when you're selecting pearl accessories.

Natural or Cultured?

You've probably heard that some pearls are natural while others are freshwater pearls or cultured pearls. You've probably also heard that natural pearls are created around a grain of sand. In fact, an oyster usually creates a pearl as a result of something like a parasite or other irritant. Only about one in a hundred oysters naturally create a pearl, and of those, only about one in ten are quality pearls.

Cultured pearls are created in the same way - through the introduction of an irritant - but are done so in a controlled environment. As a result, cultured pearls are actually superior in quality to most natural pearls. So, rest assured that cultured pearl jewelry or freshwater pearl jewelry is just as desirable and elegant - if not more so - than natural pearl jewelry.

Grading Pearl Jewelry

Like diamonds, pearls are graded according to the different qualities they possess. Overall, pearls are graded either A, AA, or AAA, with AAA denoting the highest quality. If a pearl falls between the A and AA grades, or the AA and AAA grades, a plus sign (AA+) may also be used.

Pearl Quality

The environment in which pearls are grown affects their quality. A pearl's grade depends upon its luster, shape, and surface appearance. Luster refers to the reflection of light through the outer layers of the pearl. Larger pearls have more layers, and so have greater luster. High luster receives a higher grade than low luster.

Round pearls are the most difficult to grow, and thus are considered more valuable and receive a higher grade than those that are off-round. Although the classic pearl shape is round, fashion pearl jewelry often features unique pearl shapes that are just as beautiful and captivating as round pearls.

The pearl surface is graded according to the numbers and kinds of imperfections on the pearl. A pearl's blemish may appear as a bubble, a line, or a dark spot. Ninety-five percent of the surface of an AAA pearl is free from defects.

When you're shopping for pearl jewelry, keep in mind how pearls are grown and graded, but make your own decision about the qualities are important to you.

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