Pearls of Wisdom: A Buyer's Guide to Purchasing Pearls - Marina Korneev FP

Pearls of Wisdom: A Buyer's Guide to Purchasing Pearls

Posted by Marina Korneev on

Today, we're diving into the subject of the hidden obstacles that can arise for anyone wishing to purchase pearls. Of course, I'm sure you're already savvy about where and how to buy pearls, right? 😉

But let's face it, we are still a minority in this big world. With new readers coming here all the time, and since "repetition is the mother of learning," especially as we grow older and our memory sometimes fails us, I thought it's a perfect time to discuss this topic.

Buying Pearls: Not as Simple as It Seems

Buying pearls can be a tricky business. Myths, misconceptions, and deliberately misleading information still abound. One thing is certain. The romantic image of the pearl diver, plunging off a small boat to retrieve pearls from the ocean floor, is a thing of the past (although... hmm... I did read something about this in a Facebook group recently... never mind). Perhaps it's for the best. Pearl diving used to be a dangerous occupation, causing many fatalities from the coasts of Central America to the North West coasts of Australian continent.

Natural wild pearls still exist, but they are, well... hard to find. Nowadays, pearls are farmed in freshwater lakes and ponds or in ocean lagoons.

So, Let's Dive In!

Whether you're on vacation or purchasing pearls online, there is always a scammer ready to swindle you out of your hard-earned money. But don't worry, I'm here to help! A little knowledge and common sense regarding "marketing noise" will guide us through.

If you know little about pearls (and most people don't know much about them, including many jewelers—I've confirmed this in many countries!), my pearl blog, and this post in particular, will help you avoid some of the common pitfalls. And of course, I'm always here to answer all your pearl-related questions 😊.

1. Playing the Classification Game

Though there's no universal standard for classifying pearls, most reputable sellers use an A-AAA system to grade pearl quality. Tahitian pearls might be classified using either an A to AAA system, or A to D.

I must admit, I do not use A-AAA, and neither do those who taught me pearls. Sadly, this standard is extremely subjective and can be abused to the point that what one seller labels as AAA, another might not even consider AA, and so on. If you ever come across descriptions like AAAA, AAA+, or AAAAA, you can safely disregard the pluses and extra As. Approach such hyper-inflated classification with caution.

Sometimes you may encounter the term "Gem Quality," describing pearls without (visible) defects. These pearls are more often used in earrings, pendants, and rings rather than necklaces or bracelets. If you do find them in the latter, rest assured, the price for such pieces will be measured in tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the pearl type. For instance, I can point you to a pearl necklace that cost one and a half million dollars. It's available for purchase. Delivered in the armed vehicle with armed guards.  

2. Playing the "Blue Tag Quality" Game

The Japanese Pearl Exporters Association Inspection Tag (Blue Tag) is sometimes used to denote pearl quality. I've seen it myself. It's popular in the United Kingdom and Australia, but rarely found in the United States. In other countries, I'm unsure. If you've encountered it, please do tell me where.

In short, before us is the legend of the "JPEA blue tag." Let's debunk it.

JPEA is a voluntary, not an official organization, inspecting pearls from any country and either approving or rejecting them based on whether they meet the minimum market standard. The keyword here is "minimum." The blue tag does not mean that the pearl was cultivated in Japan or that it is of the highest grade or better than a pearl without such a tag.

blue tag - Marina Korneev Pearls

The JPEA Verification Label MEANS:

  • That the pearl is not damaged or cracked
  • That the nacre (at least) is thick enough to cover the nucleus
  • That the pearl is not bleached or colored to the extent that it is unfit for use
  • That the pearl has the minimal acceptable quality

The JPEA Verification Label DOES NOT MEAN:

  • That the pearl was grown in Japan
  • That the pearl is of the highest grade
  • That the pearl is of better quality than one without labels
  • That every pearl that has been checked receives a label

Think of it as a car smog check. It only states that the vehicle meets the minimum standard of road safety. It does not imply that it is a superior car or that it won't break down next week.

blue tag - Marina Korneev Pearls

3. Fishy Advertising

"Retail price $1350. Our price $270. You save 80%!!!"

Beware of such "hooks" that catch unsuspecting buyers. What constitutes 'retail' is never defined and unless you do your shopping on Rodeo Drive or 5th Avenue, treat such claims as mere "advertising noise."

4. Stock Photos of Pearls

Real pearls don't look like glass beads or ball bearings! Always ask for a real photo of the jewelry you're buying. Better yet, ask for a video! Taking good pictures of pearls is not easy, I can fully attest to that! And remember, real pearls have a unique appearance, they do not look identical and flawless.

flawless pearls - Marina Korneev Pearls

So, how to protect yourself?

Always know your seller!

A pearl specialist is your most reliable and least expensive pearl supplier in terms of price-quality.

The world of pearls is filled with nuance and complexity. From subjective classification systems to misleading labels, it's essential to approach pearl purchasing with a discerning eye.

Happy pearl shopping, and as always, feel free to reach out to me with any thoughts or questions.

Stay glamorous!

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