How to Appraise Pearls

By Jo Burns

Pearls are produced in freshwater or saltwater. They can be cultured (farmed) or harvested naturally from the sea. They come in many colors, including white, ivory, beige, pink and green; there is even a black pearl, which comes from the green lipped Tahitian oyster. In all cases, a pearl is created when a fragment of shell, bone or sand gets trapped in an oyster's shell. To protect itself from this irritant, the oyster secretes a substance called nacre that forms a hard coating around the intruder, and a pearl is born. When appraising a pearl there are several things to consider, including its size, luster and where it came from.

Clarify what type of appraisal you need. Insurance values are typically higher than retail values because insurance appraisals are considered to be the price it would cost to replace your pearls if they were lost, stolen or destroyed.

Ask a professional jeweler to size and grade your pearls and provide you with written documentation of her findings. Pearls are graded by the depth of their luster, absence of imperfections and shape. Typically, there are two systems for grading pearls. In the A-AAA system, A represents the lowest quality of pearl and AAA represents the highest.

Grade A pearls are irregular in shape and have many imperfections that are visible to the naked eye.

Grade AA pearls have a high luster, are round or nearly round in shape, and have few noticeable imperfections.

Grade AAA pearls have excellent luster and are very round. They are 95 percent free of imperfections. AAA pearls are the highest grade of pearls usually found in loose strands, necklaces and bracelets.

The Tahitian system of pearl grading rates pearls as A-D with A being the highest quality and D being the lowest. It is usually reserved for grading saltwater pearls.

Consult an accredited professional to appraise your pearls. Accredited appraisers can be found online and in the phone book, or by asking your jeweler for a recommendation.

Comparison shop to self-appraise your pearls. Once you know the size and grade of your pearls, look online and in local stores to learn the price for which similar pearls are being sold.