Pearl Varieties and Quality GradingOrigin, colour spectrum and pearl quality
Pearl varieties – the whims of nature
Shells: where pearls are born
Pearl cultivation near the equator
A natural rainbow: pearl varieties and their colours
Pearls in countless shades of colour
Rare – and impressively sized – South Sea pearls
The rare beauty of South Sea pearls
South Sea pearls are one of the most elegant types of cultured pearls. They are known as the “queen of pearls” because of their size, rarity and impressive beauty. Some South Sea pearls can grow up to 20 mm in diameter, and in rare cases even more. Light-coloured South Sea cultured pearls come from the Pinctada maxima, one of the largest known kinds of oysters.
Pearls with silky shine
This tropical shell, which can grow up to 25 cm in diameter and 5 kg in weight, is the birthplace of valuable cultured pearls. These rare beauties have a soft, velvety appearance with a particularly smooth shine. Pearls grown inside a Pinctada maxima oyster range in colour from silvery white to cream and gold. They are cultivated on the coast of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Pearls from the South Sea: sumptuous golden pearls
Pearl farmers always try to create pearls in new colours, which can be achieved by raising cross-bred or pure-bred oysters. This is how golden pearls from the South Sea arose in the late 1970s. These pearls from the Philippines, with colouration ranging from intense gold to pale orange, have become increasingly popular over the last decade. Alongside white South Sea pearls and black beauties from Tahiti, golden pearls are now considered an integral part of any jeweller’s pearl selection.
The Vanilla Overtone pearl variety by Bucherer
Bucherer is pleased to offer Vanilla Overtone golden pearls in its range of jewellery. This pearl variety is the result of many years of working to isolate a subspecies of the gold-lipped Pinctada maxima from other species. These pearls are a slightly paler shade of gold, making them ideal for European skin tones, which tend to be less sun-kissed. Only very few farmers in southern Indonesia have succeeded in cultivating pearls in this rare hue.
Pearls from Tahiti and Fiji
Pearls from Tahiti and Fiji
Dark-coloured South Sea pearls are also known as Tahitian cultured pearls. They are cultivated exclusively in the turquoise lagoons and atolls surrounding French Polynesia. A rare pearl variety, they range in diameter from around 8 to 16 mm. They are created by the black-lipped Pinctada margaritifera oyster. Tahitian pearls are enchanting natural masterpieces characterised by their size and mysterious shades of colour. This iridescent play of colour ranges from light silvery grey to dark green, from elegant anthracite to jet black.
Fiji pearls are also born in the same black-lipped oysters, which thrive in the pristine waters around the island of Vanua Levu in northern Fiji. They are cultivated there in very small numbers. Cultured pearls from Fiji have an iridescent shine that shimmers in every tone you can imagine, from pastel pistachio green to deep ocean blue – a reflection of the luscious vegetation of their birthplace in this South Sea paradise.
The most classic of all pearls: the highly coveted Japanese Akoya pearl
Akoya pearls – unparalleled shine
They are formed inside the Pinctada martensii oyster, also known as akoyagai in Japanese. In fact it was the akoyagai that gave rise to the first cultured pearls ever, just over 100 years ago. Outshining their cultured-pearl counterparts, Akoya pearls are characterised by their fascinating lustre – the most important quality criterion experts use when grading pearls. This explains why they have been so highly coveted ever since they first appeared on the world markets in 1921.
Akoya pearls at Bucherer
Akoya pearls are considered to be the most classic and feminine kind of pearl. Today, they are available in sizes ranging from around 6 to 10 mm in diameter. Necklaces with high-quality pearls from 9.5 to 10 mm in diameter are rare. The best cultured Akoya pearls – which also live up to Bucherer’s exacting standards – still come from Japan.
Freshwater Cumingii pearls from China
Freshwater Cumingii pearls – dazzling variety
Freshwater pearls like the Cumingii variety are mostly seedless – unlike Akoya and South Sea saltwater pearls, which always have a firm mother-of-pearl core. Cumingii pearls are cultivated inside a shell called the Hyriopsis cumingii or from a cross-breed with the Hyriopsis schlegeli shell. This type of shell is considerably larger than the Akoya oyster, and is capable of forming several pearls simultaneously. Cumingii pearl farms are found almost exclusively in southern China.
Cumingii cultured pearls are known primarily for their myriad of shapes and colours. This beautiful diversity, along with their attractive price, have helped to give pearls in general a new young and feminine image.
Pearl quality criteria
In 2000, Bucherer became the first jeweller in the world to introduce a pearl certificate. With this certificate, we aim to facilitate it for our customers to choose the right pearls and guarantee them the highest quality. The certificate contains an expert’s detailed grade and explanation for each quality criterion.
Shine, also known as lustre, is the most important factor for determining the value of a pearl. The lustre depends on the pearl’s nacre, or its coating and surface quality. The deeper the pearl’s lustre, the stronger its iridescent shimmer is.
- Highest level of clarity, optimal light refraction, clear reflection
Very fine quality, excellent
- Very good light refraction, good reflection
Fine quality, good
- Good light refraction and reflection
Commercial quality, matt
- Possibly a thin coating with milky (weak) refraction and reflection
Pearls come in many shapes.
The purity of a pearl’s surface also plays a role in determining its quality, which is assessed based on characteristics that arise naturally during its formation. A pearl’s surface itself should be as smooth and uniform as possible. The more flawless the pearl, the higher the value.
However, since pearls are natural products, their surface may not always be smooth and perfect. The coating of a pearl can range from completely smooth to coarse and grainy.
- No inclusions, or at least 80% of the surface is pure, i.e. there are no imperfections or inclusions. Just very small spots on the remaining 20% of the surface.
Spot level 2: chips
- At least 60% of the surface is pure, i.e. there are no imperfections or inclusions. Just very small spots on the remaining 40% of the surface.
Spot level 3: scratches
- The surface has a few imperfections, i.e. slight, shallow spots are distributed across the surface.
Spot level 4: wrinkles
- The surface has many clearly visible inclusions, i.e. relatively deep and visible spots are distributed across the entire surface.
Pearl quality: an interplay of colours and light reflections
Regarding a pearl’s colour, a basic distinction is made between actual body colour and the overtone – the colour of the light reflection on the surface. These two tones may be exactly the same or completely different. For example, pearls with a greyish green body colour and an intense iridescent overtone in a different colour are known as peacock pearls. Other pearls also have this kind of reflective overtone, but the dual colour effect is the most readily visible on peacock pearls from French Polynesia.
Countless combinations of colours and light reflections
Every pearl has a unique combination of body colour and overtone. Because colour is a descriptive feature, the variety is virtually unlimited. The price of a pearl therefore depends on how popular and rare its particular colour combination is. The choice of the right colour depends on the wearer’s skin tone and personal taste.Learn more about these underwater treasures in the Bucherer pearl brochure (PDF).