Where to buy pearl necklace online?
October 27, 2009 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I would like to buy a pearl necklace as a special gift for a young (14 year old) woman and would like to know good places to shop online. I'm hoping to find a single 18" strand of either uniform or graduated pink-white pearls for not much more than $100. (I also welcome opinions on uniform vs. graduated.)
posted by espertus to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
For a younger girl, I'd say graduated would be less likely to overwhelm a slim neck. Just my opinion.
posted by Billegible at 8:29 PM on October 27, 2009

Eeeh. I'm very iffy on the concept of buying pearls online, sight unseen honestly. Pearls are so finicky in terms of color and matching, I really would not be comfortable buying a strand unless I had seen them in multiple lightnings first.

As to style, I've always thought that uniform was more classic in appearance, and was more appropriate in more situations than graduated.

A few other questions and points -

I assume you want a strand of round or semi-round pearls, rather than button or more ovoid shapes? Have you considered Baroque pearls? They are not as traditional, but can be quite beautiful.

In the length you describe, you might find the term "princess length" a useful google search term, as it describes a strand of pearls 17"-19" in length.

Do you want saltwater, freshwater, or do you not care? Cultured or natural? You will spend more for natural pearls, but they are generally considered to be of finer color and quality than cultured pearls. I personally find saltwater pearls (marine pearls) to be more lustrous and mellow in color, but many people prefer the sharper colors of freshwater pearls.

I know I've probably just dumped a lot of complexity into this decision, but these are all points you should consider.
posted by strixus at 8:29 PM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: I would like round cultured saltwater pearls. The recipient is conservative in terms of style and is petite.
posted by espertus at 8:32 PM on October 27, 2009

Best answer: Most saltwater cultured pearls you will find will run quite white in color. In my experience Akoya pearls will be the closest to match your requirements in color. You'll want to look for AAA or AA grade pearls (if the site lists a grade from A-D, it is in the Tahitian grading system meant for dark colored pearls, and should be ignored for white, pink, or gold pearls). If the site lists AAAA grade, DO NOT BUY from them - they are full of crap and trying to cheat you - AAA is the HIGHEST grade for light colored pearls. You may also see pearls listed as AA+ or A+ - this is an unofficial way of grading pearls, but is generally accepted practice.

Are you open to buying artificially colored pearls? They will be cheaper, but are generally frowned upon by pearl experts.
posted by strixus at 8:50 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, I should also ask, what is her skin tone? Some pearls will pick up color undertones from skin tone, and (again) will appear quite different on the person than in the hand.

Again, yet another reason why buying pearls sight unseen gives me the heebiejeebies.
posted by strixus at 8:52 PM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: Strixus, thanks for all of the advice. The recipient's skin tone is fair, although she has dark hair.
posted by espertus at 8:59 PM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: Strixus, I don't care if the pearls are artificially colored. Actually, my ideal is white with a subtle pink tinge. Plain white would be okay too.

Are all same-size AA Akoya pearls comparable? Overstock has some, such as this 6.5-7 mm 18" strand.
posted by espertus at 9:15 PM on October 27, 2009

Perhaps Add-A-Pearl?
posted by oceano at 9:32 PM on October 27, 2009

I came in to say it will be nearly impossible to find a good strand for your $100 (unless you already happen to be in Asia). I'm not a jeweler but I have bought my share of pearls both in HK and in the States.
But the pearl strand you link to would probably be just wonderful for a 14 year old. They will definitely have imperfections, possibly slightly out of round, and lacking that brilliant luster found on excellent pearls. Expect to pay 500-1000+ for excellent 7mm Akoya (18").

Having said that, there is no way I'd buy pearls online unless they had one great return policy.
posted by artdrectr at 10:02 PM on October 27, 2009

I used orientalpearls.net to buy gifts for my bridesmaids. I can't vouch for the technical aspects of the pearls, but I was very happy with what I received.
posted by mrsshotglass at 10:06 PM on October 27, 2009

I hope it hasn't gone dead, but if you can load the page, check out the Pearl Guide Forum, it's filled with pearl aficionados who will be more than happy to guide you in the right direction if it hasn't already been asked in the forum.
posted by dnesan at 11:16 PM on October 27, 2009

I've always found BlueNile.com to be reliable for online ordering. I don't know anything about Perls, but they seem to have a good selection in all price ranges.


posted by nalyd at 4:09 AM on October 28, 2009

Best answer: Be aware that Pearl Guide Forum is something of a front for a group of online pearl shops by owned by J. Shepherd and his brothers and friends.

Having said that, I was just about to recommend Shepherd's online store. I wanted to warn about that forum because it is not transparent what's going on there.

Back to Shepherd's store... it's Pearl Paradise, and it is very reputable. They sell all types of pearls (akoya, Tahitian, etc.), but I think what they do especially well is find excellent freshwater pearls. Freshwaters aren't only those rice krispy looking pearls of our past. The luster is different than akoya -- akoyas have a mirror-like luster, whereas freshwaters have orient. Orient is hard to explain, but the best I can do is this: Orient is a bit of a glow that seems to surround a pearl (in the space around it), caused by the different layers of nacre reflecting themselves. That's a crappy definition, but it's hard to explain -- you really need to see it to understand. It is beautiful, though.

Also, freshwater pearls are 100% nacre, while akoyas are a very thin coat of nacre on a bead. This means freshwater pearls will last longer. Nacre is pretty delicate, and perfumes and even just normal wear against skin wears the nacre down. Over a lifetime, the nacre leaves in spots on the pearls. With freshwater pearls, this doesn't happen because they are all-nacre.

At Pearl Paradise, they call their top-quality freshwater pearls "freshadama," which is a play on the "hanadama" grade (top grade) for akoyas. Here is an 18-inch necklace with 6.5-7.0 pearls (a nice, not overwhelming size for a 14-year-old). You can see that the quality is much improved in recent years. Here is a photo of freshadamas taken by a non-professional photographer, including some close-ups. And here is a poll (scroll to photo) in which a hanadama (best-grade akoya) and freshadama (best-grade freshwater) strand are side-by-side.
posted by Houstonian at 4:17 AM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

(Poll here. Need coffee!)
posted by Houstonian at 4:18 AM on October 28, 2009

If real high-quality cultured pearls are out of your price range, consider looking at Majorica faux pearls. They're beautiful, very lustrous and feel like real pearls against the skin. They're also less likely to be damaged by body oils, perfumes etc. and so maybe a little more practical for a young woman who may not have the means to maintain natural pearls properly.

I have a beautiful necklace/bracelet combo that can be worn separately as choker/bracelet or linked together to create a longer necklace.
posted by padraigin at 9:09 AM on October 28, 2009

Great advice above but I want to add one thing. Although she is only 14 now, this is a gift that she will use till adulthood so think about pearls that will also be appropriate as she ages. I started my niece an add-a-pearl necklace but I didn't do the traditional one with the tiny child size pearls. I buy her a single, 6mm, for Christmas and birthday every year. My local jeweler keeps all the info in a file so that the pearls I buy match in color. She won't use it as a child but will have a full size strand by the time she goes to college. I know you want to buy a full strand now as your gift, just think about her being able to use it when she is older and maybe stay away from designs meant for teens.
posted by pearlybob at 9:24 AM on October 28, 2009

Depending on the quality of pearls you want, you could probably get a strand made for you by someone on Etsy for less than $100. I've personally hand-strung many strands of pearls on silk cord as gifts. It's not even that labor-intensive as far a jewelry-making goes. [not trying to sell you on my own services, I don't even make jewelry anymore, just throwing the Etsy/Alchemy suggestion out there].
posted by ishotjr at 4:04 PM on October 28, 2009

Response by poster: Houstonian, thanks for the information. Are you recommending the freshdamas at Pearl Paradise? They do look nice (and I'm thinking I may increase my price range and/or consider freshwater pearls). Strixus, I'd also welcome your opinion.
posted by espertus at 4:40 PM on October 28, 2009

Best answer: Yes, I guess I am recommended those. To me, high-quality freshwater pearls would make sense because they don't require as much care (you still have to be careful with them, but just not as careful as with akoyas). And, the quality can be just as good as akoyas, but the price is less.

One reason for the lower price for equivalent quality is because of the nature of the animals that produce the pearls. Akoyas are saltwater pearls, and they come from oysters. One oyster produces one pearl at a time. Freshwater pearls come from mollusks which produce multiple pearls at a time. So, for the same amount of time you get more freshwater pearls than saltwater.

A second reason for the lower price is buyer perception and the Mikimoto mystique. There's an interesting story behind Mikimoto (one of the more famous akoya pearl companies). They've worked hard to promote their pearls as "the" pearls. And, that was pretty much true. But, new technologies have changed freshwaters to be vastly better than they were (by traditional standards of shape, uniformity, etc.).

Pearl Paradise in particular is a notable and reputable company. They've been written up in the Wall St. Journal and USA Today. They've had tremendous sales success. Celebrities go to the brick-and-mortar store to find pearl jewelry for award ceremonies. So, they've got a good reputation, but also they offer a 90-day money-back guarantee. I've definitely heard of customers who were not sure which shade of white they wanted (or whatever) and who tried to communicate their wishes via telephone, only to change their minds when holding the actual pearls against their skin... and Pearl Paradise quickly worked with them to get a better understanding of their wants and made exchanges right away. I think you take very little risk when buying from them.

They have different grades of freshwater pearls (well, of all pearls). In the freshwater line, freshadama is the best grade. In my opinion, it's worth the little extra cost to purchase that grade. First, they are just much nicer. But second, if technology continues to improve the pearls will still look "best." But, lower grades will have a lower cost, so you may decide that you will accept a few flaws for the money savings. They explain their grading here. To get an idea of the difference between their freshadama grade and their AAA grade:

- Freshadamas are completely round.
- AAA are very round, but not exactly perfectly round. You will not notice unless you roll the necklace across a flat surface like a table, and see that the pearls do not spin uniformly as your roll the necklace.

- Freshadamas have a perfect surface (no blemishes).
- AAA are 95%-plus blemish free. So, most pearls on a necklace are blemish-free, and a few might have a small imperfection like a dimple or fold in the nacre, etc. These are not noticeable unless you are inspecting the pearls in your hand. Nobody will notice them while you wear the necklace

- Freshadamas are the top 0.01% in quality.
- AAA are the top 1% in quality. Top 1% is pretty darn good.

- An 18-inch Freshadama necklace with 6.5-7.0 pearls is $247.
- An 18-inch AAA necklace with 6.0-7.0 pearls is $114.

Really, my only concern with the company has nothing to do with the company per se, but with the forum. They moderate it heavily to give themselves advantage, and it's not transparent. I think that's not right. But, I think the store has good quality pearls for a good price, with good customer service and the 90-day guarantee.

On a completely personal note: The high-quality freshwaters are absolutely stunning. Each pearl is like a little mirror (you can actually see yourself in them). And there's that glow, that orient, which is mesmerizing. Really, this will be a remarkable gift for a 14-year-old girl, a signifier that she is becoming a young woman, and a piece of nice jewelry that she can cherish for her entire life, and then pass on to her children.
posted by Houstonian at 5:58 PM on October 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Houstonian, thank you for all of the advice. I found the link to an 18-inch Freshdama necklace with 6.5-7.0 pearls for $247 but can't find a link for the AAA at that price. From the link I found [http://www.pearlparadise.com/60-70-mm-White-Freshwater-Pearl-Necklace534.aspx], it's $114 for a 16" AA+, with an additional $44 for an 18" AAA (which supports your point).

I'm impressed by the amount of knowledge you have. Can you tell me if you're in the jewelry trade or how you got it?
posted by espertus at 9:04 PM on October 28, 2009

Response by poster: Houstonian, never mind my question about the link. I was misreading the page (adding $44 mentally without realizing that it had been added to the price on the page).
posted by espertus at 9:08 PM on October 28, 2009

I'm not in the jewelry trade -- not even close. But, I've loved pearls for quite a few years, and read whatever I can to learn more about them. I just think pearls, their history, the farms, and the trade are fascinating. My interest started when I bought a hank (a strand that's not made into jewelry) in China and became mesmerized by them.

Oh, I just remembered: When the necklace is new, it might seem that the necklace feels a little stiff. This is because there's knots between each pearl, and the knots are very close to the pearl. It's completely normal when new. You or the young lady can hang it on a hook or coat hanger for a few days and the thread will relax and the necklace will become more flexible.

I hope you love whichever necklace you choose! When they are delivered, walk around to different rooms in your home and outside, to see the pearls in different lights. Then, post back and tell us what you think!
posted by Houstonian at 3:47 AM on October 29, 2009

Houstonian, thanks for the info on the forum. I've never really asked much there, but i've browsed some of the threads and found them helpful. But from now on I'll take them with a grain of salt.
posted by dnesan at 4:11 PM on October 30, 2009

Response by poster: FYI, I ordered the Freshdama necklace, sent straight to the young lady, so I won't see it until Christmas. I will report back then.

Thanks for all of the help.
posted by espertus at 9:33 PM on November 1, 2009

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