9524 Roosevelt Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115
Tues-Sat 10am-6pm, Closed Sun & Mon

Pearls & Shell

a symbol of purity, innocence and humility.

Most of the pearls sold in bead stores, on websites and at the gem shows are freshwater pearl farmed in China.  They are usually sold as a temporary 16 inch strand which is enough for a choker length necklace.

Pearls are amazing – the only organically grown gemstone.  To culture freshwater pearls, a soft tissue implant that eventually dissolves is implanted into a large mussel. Over the next 2 to 5 years, the mussel layers multiple thin coatings of pearly nacre over the implant to produce a pearl. Each large mussel can grow up to 50 pearls at a time and that’s why freshwater pearls have become so abundant and reasonable. The natural colors of these pearls are usually white, pink, silver and lilac. 

Note, all freshwater pearls are cleaned and polished and most are bleached.  After that, if the pearls do not have good luster or color they are routinely dyed, irradiated or coated.  All metallic colors are either irradiated or coated.  Enhancement is not necessarily intended to be deceptive; it’s part of the pearl farming process. Better to dye or enhance a pearl than to throw away the mussel and pearl farmer’s work. When you consider that each pearl on a strand is seeded, farmed, taken out of the mussel, cleaned, graded for color and size, sometimes treated then drilled and strung – they’re a bargain.

There is no standardized grading system for pearls. Chinese grading is typically AAA, AA, A, B, C or D. It’s important to realize that the grade is usually assigned by the seller. Pearl grades are obviously a matter of individual judgment or interpretation so rely on your own eyes and if the pearls are pricey, it’s reasonable to ask questions.  And do remember – you get what you pay for. Exaggerated claims are easy to spot; no dealer can stay in business selling true AAA grade pearls for 70% off a true retail price.

So what drives price? Look for:

  • Roundness. You can check for roundness by rolling the pearls on a pin or string, they should roll straight. Most round or near round freshwater pearls are 3-12mm in size.
  • Luster - the shininess of the pearl’s surface.  High luster reflects light well while simultaneously appearing to have a deep glow.
  • Size – The majority of freshwater pearls on the market are 4-6mm in size. They’re abundant and inexpensive.  Very small pearls (2mm or less) are relatively expensive because it takes 200 tiny 2mm pearls to make a 16” strand and that takes a lot more labor.  Larger pearls (7mm or more) jump in price very quickly because it takes a lot longer to grow a big pearl and the mussel makes fewer of them.  9-12 mm round pearls are exponentially more expensive, especially if they’re round or near round.
  • Surface - the smoothness of the pearl’s surface. The pearl will be worth more the fewer bumps, scratches or pits on its surface.

Today, freshwater pearls come in many shapes, such as: round, near-round, semi-baroque, baroque, keshi, potato, pear and oval.  Most of these shapes are seeded with mantel tissue, which dissolves and the final pearl is solid nacre with no blank in the center.  In recent years however, pearl farmers have succeeded in implanting blanks with some very specific shapes, such as: coin, diamond or cross. The thickness of the nacre over these blanks can be very thin so check them out.

Every day, we carry at least 200 different pearl strands; a great selection at an honest great price.