What To Look For When Buying A Pearl Bracelet

This article discusses the types of pearls used in bracelet design and what to look for when buying a quality pearl bracelet.

What to Look for When Buying a Pearl Bracelet

When buying a pearl bracelet, consider the style, design, and workmanship of the bracelet. Then decide on the type of pearl you want and the size that best suits your needs.

Pearls are either natural or cultured and classified as either freshwater or saltwater. Luster (how the light reflects off the pearl), as well as size, shape, and color are important factors in determining the quality of pearls. Blemishes on the surface also affect quality. Pearls are sized in millimeters, usually expressed as 7.0 mm, for example.

Pearls are most often used in cuff type bracelets or single, double, or multi-row bracelets. For cuff bracelets, pearls are mounted in a setting of gold or silver. The higher the pearl quality, the more expensive the mounting will be. High quality cultured pearls are typically set in a platinum or 18 karat yellow gold mount. Silver is often a better choice for freshwater pearls because it complements the purple, pink or silver colors of the pearls.

For single, double or multi-row bracelets, strands should be knotted between individual pearls so they do not knock against each other. Pearls, with the exception of most freshwater pearls, should be well matched in luster, size, tone, and color. The clasp on the bracelet should be incorporated into the design and easy to use. The size of the pearls should be in proportion to the wrist size. Smaller pearl sizes are usually more flattering for children and young women.

Freshwater pearls are typically 3.0 to 7.0 mm in size and are the least expensive. They are usually irregular in shape, from round or oval to pear or button-shaped. The color also varies from white to cream, pale pink, silvery white or lavender. Freshwater pearls are less consistent than saltwater pearls when it comes to shape, size, and color.

Seed pearls are tiny pearls about the size of a seed. They are not cultivated specifically for use in jewelry; rather they are sometimes formed in the oyster in addition to a pearl. Seed pearls are commonly found in vintage jewelry, especially dating from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Vintage bracelets made of seed pearls are difficult to find and very delicate, as the pearls are strung on horsehair.

Natural pearls are quite rare and are expensive. They are typically found in vintage jewelry, made prior to the 1920s. Saltwater cultured pearls such as Akoya pearls from Japan are less expensive than natural pearls and are the most common type of pearl used for bracelets. Cultured pearls are more round in shape, more symmetrical, larger, and of a higher quality than freshwater pearls. They are white in color, often with rose tones, with sizes ranging from 6.0 to 8.5 mm.

Tahitian and South Sea cultured pearls are the largest pearls and range from 9.0 to 13 mm in size. They are the highest quality pearls available. Tahitian cultured pearls are a greenish, bluish, grayish or black color with iridescent or silvery tones. South Sea cultured pearls are white in color with silver or gold tones. Because of their large size Tahitian and South Sea cultured pearls are generally not used for bracelets except as an accent.

Last but not least, always do the official authenticity test. Rub one of the pearls between your top and bottom teeth. If it is a real pearl, natural or cultured, it will feel gritty. If it feels slippery, it's plastic and not a real pearl.

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