As Grace Kelly once said; the pearl is the queen of the gems and the gems of the queens, and without a doubt, we fully agree. Pearls are unquestionably the most popular gems in the world, always in demand and always in style. They’ve inspired some of the most iconic pop culture moments, made so many people famous just for wearing them, and to this day serve as an example of luxury, elite status, and the end goal of success.
Owning pearls is a sign of high status, almost everywhere in the world. And, as we all know, status is expensive, as well as pearls. That is why many seek out vintage pearl jewelry, but sometimes without prior knowledge about the type of pearls, or their actual worth.
If you are in a hurry, here’s a quick answer: High quality natural and cultured pearls maintain significant value for their beauty, rarity and heritage. But lower grade cultured pearls are now quite inexpensive and widely available. The value depends greatly on the specific type and quality of pearl.
In the following paragraphs, we’ll talk about the value of pearls nowadays, the most expensive pearls out there, and of course, where you can get them for a potentially lower cost. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
The Price And Value Of Pearls In 2023 (Pro Guidance)
How Pearls Reached Their Elite Status?
For thousands of years, pearls have been valued and treasured among the greatest civilizations our world has seen. From the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks, to the Far East, people have revered and enjoyed pearls so much so that they were willing to wage wars and seek power just to get their hands on pearls. Throughout history, pearls were almost always reserved for the very elite of society, the royalty, nobility, and overall upper class.
Even Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, was known for her adoration of pearls and proud display of opulence. It is also believed that Cleopatra owned the two largest pearls the world has ever seen; she valued them so much that she didn’t want anyone else to own them besides her, but we believe she wanted to prove a point of being the richest queen. That led Cleopatra to allegedly dissolve the pearls in a glass of wine and drink them.
But, how did pearls reach such a status among even the richest in the world?
It is believed that as early as 2300 BC, pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty. In ancient Arab culture, pearls had a legendary status, though not known how they became so. It is believed that the Persian Gulf was rich in pearl oysters, so it became the pearl trade center of the world.
From there on, the word of these incredible gems spread, reaching Rome, France, and the rest of the world. Pearls are officially the world’s oldest gem, believed to have been revered since before any written history. That is why it is difficult to really track down the exact point in time when pearls reached their legendary status.
Pearls have transcended time and borders to become enduring symbols of beauty, purity, and wisdom in various cultures. In many societies, pearls represent femininity, grace, and elegance. They have been associated with the moon, reflecting its shimmering glow and embodying the concept of Yin in Chinese philosophy.
Pearls are often seen as a representation of the divine feminine and have been used in religious ceremonies and rituals throughout history. Even nowadays, pearls are primarily worn by women, but many men (especially celebrities), are joining the ‘trend’ and using pearls to express their own feminine side.
In addition to their femininity symbolism, pearls hold significance in marriage traditions. In Western cultures, pearls are often considered an ideal wedding accessory, symbolizing purity, love, and a happy union. They have also been regarded as lucky charms, believed to bring good fortune and protect against evil spirits. However, in some cultures pearls actually represent tears, and it is believed that wearing pearls on one’s wedding day will lead to a sad, unfortunate marriage. There are many superstitions surrounding pearls, so feel free to choose which ones you’ll put your belief in.
Pearl Cultivation and Profit
It is fair to admit that pearls, beyond their cultural and historical significance, are an incredible source of profit to those cultivating them. The pearl industry, both natural and cultured, has become a vital part of the global economy. Natural pearls, which occur rarely and spontaneously, command a premium due to their scarcity.
Their unique shapes, sizes, and colors make each pearl a distinctive work of art. The value of natural pearls is determined by factors such as luster, surface quality, color, shape, and size. Unblemished, perfectly round pearls with a rich luster are the most coveted and valuable.
Cultured pearls, on the other hand, are pearls that are created through human intervention. Kokichu Mikimoto, who was a son of a Japanese noodle maker, managed to create the first cultured pearl in 1893. This process involves inserting a nucleus, typically a small bead, into the oyster or mollusk, stimulating the secretion of nacre. Cultured pearls have made pearls more accessible to a wider audience, making them less exclusive and more affordable.
The pearl industry generates significant revenue worldwide, providing livelihoods to numerous individuals involved in pearl harvesting, processing, and jewelry design. Major pearl-producing countries, such as China, Japan, Australia, and Tahiti, have thriving pearl farming industries that contribute to their economies, earning them hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Types of Pearls and Their Value
There are two types of pearls; natural-occurring pearls, which are rather rare, and cultivated pearls, which are created through human intervention, as we mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Despite the different makers (nature vs. human), the process of pearl formation is exactly the same for both natural and cultivated pearls. Nevertheless, there is one important difference between these two, which also affects their value; the very irritant that makes a pearl form and grow.
For natural pearls, this irritant is an external intruder that makes a pearl grow within the oyster shell. When we say ‘external irritant (we’re talking about, for example, a parasite, or even a grain of sand. Cultured pearls, on the other hand, are created by human assistance, where a piece of tissue from another oyster is used to grow a pearl. Truth be told, this could be a reason for a price difference, but it often isn’t. Sometimes cultured pearls are worth more than natural ones.
Let’s take a look at the most valuable pearls nowadays to get a better understanding;
- South Sea pearls – These are the most valuable pearls one can find on the market. These are cultured pearls, often referred to as White South Sea pearls and Golden South Sea pearls. A strand of such pearls can reach a price of up to 100,000 USD. The reason these pearls are so valued lies in their variety of colors, especially those of golden hues. Though cultured, the color of these pearls is completely naturally occurring.
- Tahitian pearls – We’re all used to pearls being light-colored, but the Tahitian pearls come in deep, dark colors. This makes them rare and highly valuable, as they’re exotic and incredibly stunning. A strand of Tahitian pearls is valued at around 25,000 USD.
- Akoya pearls – These are those classic white pearls we all know and love. Though a bit smaller when compared to a standard pearl, Akoya pearls are incredibly beautiful and dainty. They’re cultivated pearls, and actually, the first pearls to be cultivated in Japan. Nowadays, the value of a strand of Akoya pearls can reach 10,000 USD.
- Freshwater pearls – Unlike the previous pearls (that often come from oysters), Freshwater pearls come from mussels. They’re cultivated on pearl farms and come in a range of different shapes, sizes, and colors. They’re incredibly beautiful and considered less expensive than the Akoya pearls. Nowadays, these pearls can reach a price tag of around 2000 USD.
On their own, these pearls don’t seem too expensive, right? We’ve heard of pearls reaching a price of millions of dollars. But, that is only when the pearls are put together to form a piece of jewelry. Once created, a pearl necklace, for example, can have multiple strands of pearls, which increases the value of the necklace to millions of dollars. However, there are examples of single pearls reaching incredible value. For example, a pearl, currently owned by the Reyes family, is believed to be the most expensive pearl in the world, valued at around 100 million USD.
Of course, the history. of jewelry ownership also adds to the value. The most expensive pearl jewelry is that of Marie Antoinette, or more specifically, Marie’s pearl pendant. It is currently valued at around 32 million USD.
What Determines Pearl Value?
Pearls, with their exquisite beauty and rarity, vary in value depending on several key factors. The following are crucial aspects that influence and determine the worth of a pearl;
- Luster – Luster refers to the glow or sheen visible on the surface of a pearl. A high-quality pearl exhibits a deep, reflective luster, often described as a soft inner glow. Pearls with excellent luster reflect light beautifully and create a mesmerizing play of colors. The intensity and brilliance of the luster greatly contribute to a pearl’s value.
- Surface Quality – The surface of a pearl should ideally be smooth and free from blemishes. Pearls with few or no visible flaws command higher prices. Minor imperfections such as small spots or irregularities may exist but should not detract from the overall appearance or compromise the durability of the pearl.
- Color and Hue – Pearls come in a wide range of colors and hues, including white, cream, pink, silver, gold, and black. The rarity and desirability of a particular color can affect the pearl’s value. For example, white or cream-colored pearls with rose or silver undertones are highly sought after. Similarly, black pearls, previously mentioned as Tahitian pearls, are valued for their rich, dark hues and rarity. The intensity, evenness, and saturation of the color are essential factors in determining a pearl’s worth.
- Size – Pearls are measured in millimeters and are generally available in a range of sizes. Larger pearls are often considered more valuable, as they are incredibly rare and require a longer growth period. However, it is important to note that other factors, such as luster and surface quality, play a significant role in determining the value alongside size. Consequently, smaller pearls of exceptional quality can still command high prices.
- Shape – Pearls come in various shapes, including round, near-round, drop, button, baroque, and circled. Round pearls are the most prized and sought-after due to their symmetrical shape and uniformity. Near-round pearls, although not perfectly spherical, can also be highly valued. Other shapes, such as baroque or irregularly shaped pearls, may have unique appeal and are appreciated for their individuality.
- Origin – The origin of a pearl can influence its value. Natural pearls, formed without human intervention, are exceedingly rare and fetch higher prices due to their scarcity. Cultured pearls, which are created with the assistance of humans, are more readily available and vary in value based on the quality of the cultivation process and the reputation of the pearl farm.
It is essential to consider that assessing the value of a pearl involves a combination of these factors. While some characteristics, such as luster and surface quality, are objectively measured, other factors, including color and shape, can be subject to personal preference. Ultimately, the interplay of these elements determines the uniqueness and desirability of each pearl, shaping its value in the eyes of collectors, connoisseurs, and jewelry enthusiasts alike.
Without a doubt, pearls hold a multifaceted value that extends beyond their physical beauty. Their historical significance, cultural symbolism, and economic importance have elevated them to a position of prominence in the world of jewelry over thousands of years. Pearls continue to fascinate and enthrall people across the globe, symbolizing purity, elegance, and enduring beauty, as well as luxury, elite status, and power.
Whether cherished as family heirlooms, worn as fashion statements, or gifted as tokens of love, pearls remain timeless treasures that captivate both the eye and the soul. Hopefully, our detailed guide to pearls’ history and value has helped you understand their price tags and made you appreciate them even more.