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The value of a pearl is determined by its Lustre, Surface, Shape, Colour and Size

Lustre

This is the most important factor when choosing pearls and is defined by the inner glow of the pearl combined with the surface brilliance. A pearl with a high lustre will be very shiny and show reflections like a mirror. Pearls that look dull or chalky are a sign of low lustre.
pearl-lustre

Surface

The next fact to take into consideration when choosing pearls is the smoothness of the pearl’s surface. Cultured pearls are grown by live oysters, so it is rare to find a pearl free of any type of blemish. Blemishes can appear as bumps, cracks or indentations. The fewer the spots or blemishes a pearl has, the higher its value.
pearl-surface

Shape

The shape of a pearl is also important. Perfectly round pearls are rare and so are the most valuable. However, slightly off-round pearls can appear round from a short distance so can be a perfectly acceptable substitute. Baroque cultured pearls are irregularly shaped and have a unique and interesting look in their own right.
pearl-shape

Size

Cultured pearls are measured in millimetres. All other factors being equal, the larger the pearl the rarer and more valuable it is.
pearl-size

Colour

Pearls are produced in a wide range of colours such as light coloured whites, pinks, silvers, golds and blues or the darker shades of green, purple, grey and black. Although some shades are especially rare or popular and therefore higher in value, the colour of a pearl is not an indication of its quality. The chosen pearl’s colour is a matter of personal taste.
pearl-colour

Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are cultured in a mussel in a lake instead of the traditional cultured pearl from an oyster in the ocean. Freshwater pearls are less expensive than traditional pearls. Freshwater pearls come in many shapes including round which are generally more expensive.

South Sea Pearls

South Sea pearls are cultured throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans and are considered the rarest and finest cultured pearls in the world. South Sea pearls are large in size with the average size being 13mm and a range of sizes from 9mm – 20mm. There are two basic colour groups of South Sea pearls: white and black. White pearls are primarily cultured in the northern waters of Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Their colours range from white and silvery blue to pale gold. Pearls from the black group, including the legendary black pearl of the South Pacific, are most frequently found over an area encompassing the Cook Islands, Tahiti, Tuamotu Archipelago and French Polynesia.