An in-depth guide to buying pearls for absolute beginners
Through the ages, pearls have been considered a symbol of ethereal beauty for many civilizations. In Japanese legends, pearls were the tears of mermaids and nymphs. Half a world away, Greek mythology held that pearls came from the tears from the Greek gods, while Hindu legend held that pearls came from droplets from the moon.
Pearls create a feeling of classic elegance for the woman who wears a strand of these exquisite spheres. Pearls can be worn for any kind of event, from a casual date or a formal gathering. That explains why pearls are such a popular gift for many women.
How pearls are created
Pearls not only look naturally beautiful. The process in which natural pearls are made is also a wonder of nature.
Pearls are made when an irritant finds itself between the two shells of a pearl-producing oyster, which is a type of bivalve mollusk. Contrary to popular belief, the irritant that forms the core of a natural pearl is usually a parasite, rather than a grain of sand.
To defend itself against the irritant, the oyster mollusk secretes a fluid called nacre, which the oyster also uses to create its shell. Pronounced NAY-ker, nacre is actually a combination of the mineral aragonite, with layers of membrane-forming protein conchiolin. The oyster coats the irritant with layers of this nacre and over time, this nacre-covered irritant becomes a pearl.
Natural, cultured or imitation pearls
There are many types of pearls on the market today. Before investing in pearls, it’s a good idea to know the differences between these types so you can get the most out of your budget.
Natural pearls are the rarest among these types, and it is also the most expensive. These are the pearls that undergo the natural process, which can take up to several years to finish. Unfortunately, overfishing, pollution and climate change have devastated natural oyster beds, making natural pearls harder to find.
Cultured pearls, on the other hand, are grown and harvested from man-made or managed oyster beds. The key difference with cultured pearls is that the pearl production is instigated by the pearl farmers, who manually insert an irritant inside a mollusk. These pearls are real pearls, grown inside real oysters using the same process as natural pearls, but cultured pearls are less expensive and can be grown more efficiently.
Because of the popularity of pearls (and their relatively limited supplies), it comes as no surprise that imitation pearls are everywhere. They are easier to produce and less expensive than natural and cultured pearls. There are in fact a variety of ways to create imitation pearls, sometimes called simulated, artificial, costume, Bohemian, Roman or Mallorca pearls, including the following:
- Glass pearls are among the most common of imitation pearls and are made with a glass bead coated with a pearl-like solution. In some cases, the pearl-like solution is inserted inside a hollow glass bead.
- Cotton pearls are created with a compressed cotton core coated with a pearl-like solution, giving these imitation pearls a much lighter weight.
- Plastic pearls are among the cheapest to make, as they use a plastic bead at its core, which is then coated with a pearl-like solution.
- Roman pearls are similar to glass and plastic pearls but are formed around an alabaster core.
- Bohemian pearls are created from “mother of pearl,” the nacre that forms the insides of many mollusks, particularly when there is a protuberance of that mother of pearl. That protuberance is then polished to look like a real pearl.
- Shell pearls are similar to Bohemian pearls in that they are cut from the nacre of mollusk shells, then buffed and sometimes dyed to create imitation pearls.
- Mother-of-Pearl pearl also use the nacre from mollusk shells, but first crushes them into a powder, which are then reformulated and formed into round pearls.
Aside from natural or cultured, there are other properties to consider when buying a real pearl. Most of these properties are a matter of personal preferences.
For starters, pearl shoppers should remember that real pearls aren’t all white. Pearls actually come in a wide variety of color, ranging from delicate pastels and sophisticated dark hues. However, it is good to note that the rarer a color is for a natural pearl, the more expensive the pearl gets.
A pearl naturally creates an intense brilliance. This reflective quality is called luster. This is the most important property to consider when getting pearls. A pearl’s luster should be bright enough to showcase your reflection on it. The higher the intensity of its luster, the higher the pearl’s quality.
Pearls come in many sizes; depending on what type of pearl it is. Freshwater pearls tend to be smaller in size than their saltwater counterparts. Larger pearls will usually cost more because they are rarer to find. But, depending on what type of jewelry you’re getting, size does play an important role. Larger pearls will look better on necklaces as opposed to earrings. While smaller pearls are better suited for rings.
Contrary to popular belief, not all pearls come out as a perfect sphere. Depending on what type of pearl it is, pearls come in many different shapes. The more perfectly round the pearl, the more expensive it gets. That is why it isn’t uncommon to see pearl necklaces that are shaped differently.
Another issue about pearl shape is matching. Since pearls come out differently in size, it is difficult to create a jewelry piece with perfectly matched pearls. Some pieces might take years to finish. That is why shape can drastically change a pearl’s price, as well.
Types of pearls
The properties above tend to vary depending on the type of pearl. There are two main types of pearls to choose from: freshwater and saltwater.
Freshwater pearls are cultured in lakes, ponds, and rivers. Most of these pearls come from China. These pearls tend to come out in smaller sizes, and pastel colors. They also produce more uneven shapes. Because of these, freshwater pearls tend to be less expensive.
Saltwater pearls are cultured in the seas and oceans. These pearls can grow up 20 millimeters in size, and some of the largest pearls in the world are saltwater pearls. They tend to have a more brilliant luster and deep color than their freshwater counterparts; that is why prices for saltwater pearls are higher. Below are three of the more popular kinds of saltwater pearls.
- Akoya pearls can be found in China and Japan. They are mostly white and cream in color and are considered the most classic of the pearls. Their beautiful luster and spherical shape make them perfect for making strands. When you are thinking of the word ‘pearl,’ the picture that pops in your head will most probably be an Akoya pearl.
- South Sea pearls can be found in the waters of Australia, Indonesia, and Philippines, and they are well-known for their golden color. They also shine brilliantly, and they grow the largest in size.
- Tahitian pearls can be found in the French Polynesia and are considered the most valuable of pearls because of their rarity. Thus, they are the most expensive pearls in the market. Tahitian pearls are also called ‘black pearls’ because of their dark color, but they are actually different shades of grey with hints of blue and green.
Whatever type of pearl you are thinking of getting, it’s good to remember that pearls love to be worn. Storing pearls for long periods of time deplete their moisture levels and make them loose their luster. Wearing them often allows them their much-needed moisture from humidity and allows you to show off your beautiful piece of jewelry.
That is what makes pearl jewelry such a great investment. You can wear it as often as you like, and it is versatile enough for a huge number of different outfits. A strand of pearls is the perfect, minimalist accessory for every woman that wants to convey simple grace and timeless beauty. With proper care and constant use, a strand of pearls can last a long time and still look glamorously elegant.
An in-depth guide to buying diamond jewelry for absolute beginners
If you’re going to spend more than the cost of a fancy dinner on a piece of diamond jewelry, it pays to know how to be a smart shopper. For most people, buying a diamond, whether a loose stone or as part of a jewelry, is an important decision – especially if it’s going to be a gift for someone special.
Buying a diamond is also more than just an investment. Whether it’s an engagement ring to start a new life with someone special or a pair of earrings that celebrate twenty-five years together, a diamond is often something special. And even if you don’t understand what makes a good diamond, there’s a good chance the person you’re giving the diamond to will know. So, the burden is on you to make sure that you find the best-quality diamond for the money you’re paying.
The good news is that you have help. This compact guide will help ensure that you find the highest quality diamond jewelry at the right price, without wasting money. And it all starts before you step foot in a jewelry store or visit a jewelry website.
Key preparation steps
The #1 way to make sure you don’t lose any money in your search for the right diamond is to invest a little time in the preparation stage. Specifically, you need to decide how much you will spend and what you want to purchase – or better yet what the person receiving this gift really wants.
Know what you want
Whether you’re buying a ring, necklace, earrings or pendant, take the time to find out what style your gift recipient wants. You could ask that person directly, and that’s definitely the preferred option for wedding and engagement rings.
If you want the gift to be a surprise, then you’ll need to work on some intelligence gathering. Start by paying attention to the jewelry your recipient likes to wear. But don’t forget that you can also ask your recipient’s friends or family members for ideas.
Determine how much you want to spend
You can literally find a diamond for any budget. But to make sure you don’t go broke from your purchase, you need to establish a budget before you start shopping. A good working budget normally includes a minimum and maximum range, and that maximum amount is something you feel comfortable spending.
With engagement rings, the rule of thumb in recent decades has been two months of salary. But the smart shopper ignores that rule of thumb. For starters, that guideline comes from a 1980s advertising slogan by luxury jewelry giant DeBeers – who wanted to get customers to buy more diamonds. In other words, ignore that advertising slogan.
The reality is that your budget is based on how much you can afford to pay. Even if you plan to just charge it to your credit card, you must remember that you have to pay back that debt. If you plan to finance your purchase, start by calculating how much you can pay each month. Then multiply that monthly amount by six months, to estimate the total price you should pay.
The Four Cs
Now that you’re ready to start shopping for a diamond, the basic guideline for buyers are the “Four Cs”: color, cut, clarity and carat. These four Cs help determine the value of a diamond.
There are two elements to color: the yellow hue, if any, in the stone; and the florescence. Diamond stones typically fall in a color range between light yellow and colorless – and the more colorless the diamond, the higher its value.
To simplify how the color of diamond stones are graded, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) developed a 23-letter grading scale that went from D to Z, with D being the most colorless and Z having very noticeable coloring. [The GIA scale omitted A, B and C, because the previous rating popularly used in the past used an A-to-C grading scale.]
The following is a detailed overview of the GIA standard color measuring system for diamonds:
- D – Absolutely colorless. The top of the scale starts with diamonds that are have no coloring whatsoever.
- E to F – Colorless. Diamonds graded E and F are also considered colorless, but also offer the highest value. Purists tend to look for diamonds with a minimum rating of F.
- G to J – Near colorless. Diamonds in this range have almost unnoticeable color. In fact, to the naked eye, even J-rated diamond stones normally appear colorless. The best value for quality diamonds often come with diamonds in the near-colorless range.
- K to M – Faint yellow. In this range, the diamond typically has a barely or slightly noticeable yellow hue.
- N to R – Very light yellow. These diamonds have an obvious but still relatively light-yellow coloring.
- S to Z – Light yellow. The lowest-rated diamonds, in terms of color, tend to have a more pronounced light-yellow coloring.
In addition to the yellow hue (or absence thereof) in the diamond, color also involves florescence. Under florescent lights or with direct sunlight, some diamonds seem to change color. This florescence can sometimes make diamonds rated K to Z appear colorless or slightly blue, which often increases the value of a yellowish diamond.
Unfortunately, sometimes a diamond has a yellow florescence which can have the adverse effect of lowering the value of diamonds in the D to J range.
So, as you examine diamond stones for color, remember to check its GIA color rating and examine its florescence under florescent lights, whenever possible.
While florescence may seem to add color to a diamond, florescence is not the same as the diamond’s brilliance, also called its brightness or sparkle. That brilliance is the result of how the diamond collects and distributes light, and the biggest factor in that regard is the diamond’s cut.
In fact, the right cut can help increase the value of a diamond by almost half, compared to other diamonds with weaker cuts. Unfortunately, cutting diamonds to superior standards will mean chipping away and wasting up to 50% of the original stone. That’s why many jewelers and cutters sometimes opt for inferior cuts that retain more carats.
Regarding the four Cs, the cut doesn’t refer to the diamond’s general shape. Yes, some shapes are sometimes referred to as cuts (e.g. round, square, rectangular, oval or pear shapes). But strictly speaking, cut refers to the diamond’s proportions, symmetry, depth and polish. More specifically, the “cut” in the context of the Four Cs refers to precision cutting of the stone to produce facets (typically around 58 with many quality diamonds) that help the finished diamond reflect more light.
The cut is critical to how the diamond will gather and distribute light. In other words, the determines how the diamond will shine and sparkle. A well-cut diamond captures more of the available light and reflect more light upwards.
- Not too flat. When the diamond is cut too shallow, it tends to lose a large amount of collected light down through its bottom points.
- Not too deep. On the other hand, deeply cut diamonds will also lose a large amount of its collected light through its steep sides. Deep cuts cause diamonds to seem darker.
- Ideal or excellent cut. The superior diamond cut is neither too shallow or too deep. Well-cut diamonds will bring in light from the “pavilion” (top of the finished stone) bounce light off once side then across to the other side, before coming out the top.
There are mathematical equations that experts use to grade cuts. However, the American Gem Society (AGS) and the Gemalogical Institute of America (GIA) both have their own rating systems.
- The GIA has a 5-level system: Excellent; Very Good; Good; Fair; and Poor.
- The AGS has a 6-level system that adds an ideal rating to the top: Ideal; Excellent; Very Good; Good; Fair; and Poor.
In general, the highest quality diamonds are cut to ideal or excellent.
The diamond’s clarity is a measure of the stone’s purity and lack of blemishes. These impurities interfere with the diamond’s dazzle and can increase the probability that the diamond becomes damaged or cracks. Consequently, clarity has a significant effect on a diamond’s quality and value.
But as with other gemstones, most natural diamonds have imperfections, blemishes on the diamond’s surface and inclusions inside the diamond. In fact, very few jewelers have ever seen a diamond absolutely devoid of any inclusions or blemishes. At the same time, many inclusions and imperfections are invisible to the naked eye and often require a strong magnifying glass.
When grading a diamond’s clarity, expert jewelers consider several factors about the stone’s inclusions, such as the size, number, location and visibility of inclusions, as well as whether they might impact the diamond’s durability. The GIA rating scale for clarity used by jewelers today uses consists of 11 general levels, based on those five factors:
- Flawless (F1) – The highest rating level indicates that under 10X magnification, no internal or external blemishes have been detected. Of course, there may still be flaws that are only visible with greater magnification.
- Internally Flawless (F2) – The second highest rating level indicates that under 10X magnification, no internal inclusions have been detected — although some external blemishes are allowed, as long as they’re minor and only on the surface.
- Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1/VVS2) – Inclusions have been detected under 10x magnification, but they are so minute that they are difficult to spot even with magnification and almost unnoticeable to the naked eye.
- Very Slightly Included (VS1/VS2) – Again, only minor inclusions have been detected with magnification, though may be difficult to spot with naked eye.
- Slightly Included (SI1/SI2) – At this level, 10x magnification can easily spot internal blemishes. And some blemishes may even be visible with the naked eye.
- Included (I1/I2/I3) – The lowest clarity rating is for stones in which inclusions and blemishes are usually visible to the eye.
Contrary to popular misconception, carat doesn’t refer to diamond size. Strictly speaking carat refers to the diamond’s weight. Of course, carat weight does increase with the diamond’s size but diamonds can also look bigger because of the way they’re cut.
One carat is 0.2 gram or about 0.007 ounces. Jewelers measure down to 1/100th of a carat, and each 1/100 carat is sometimes called a point – so that a 100-point diamond is a 1-carat diamond.
It’s important to note that price doesn’t follow a straight line with carat weight, because there are other factors (especially the other Cs) that matter. For example, two diamonds with exact same carat weight may have wildly differing prices, based on the clarity, cut and color of the diamonds.
Another thing to remember is that carat weight can only really be measured when the diamond is loose. Lastly, you’ll sometimes hear about “total carat weight.” That term refers to rings, pendants and other jewelry that have set more than one diamond stone. Thus, total carat weight refers to the estimated combined weight of the diamonds in that jewelry.
The four Cs provide a handy guide for comparing different diamonds as you shot. Depending on your budget, you may not hit the top ratings on cut, color and clarity. Or you may have to settle for a smaller carat diamond. Regardless, make sure you obtain the GIA or AGS ratings as you start to compare diamond stones and jewelry.
A guide to buying emerald jewelry and stones
Over the centuries, emeralds have become one of the most celebrated stones in the western world. We’ve read about it in various fairy tales, legends and myths. In many museums, we can see emeralds encrusted in crowns and sword hilts. Its rich, green color is often considered synonymous with beauty and luxury.
Unfortunately, finding and acquiring a high-quality emerald can sometimes be tricky because many stones marketed as emeralds aren’t true emeralds. Many first-time emerald shoppers need to be very careful. But don’t give up. This handy guide will share key tips and information to help you find the right emerald at the right price.
Color and Hue
The prices of emeralds can vary greatly depending on its color and secondary hues. Although the primary color of most emeralds is green, intensity and tone play an important role on how that green looks.
When it comes to color, an emerald with a higher intensity of color reflects light better and allows its color to shine more. On the other hand, an emerald with a low intensity will look comparably dull. The tone refers to how light or dark the emerald’s green color will appear.
Most emeralds aren’t pure green either. They may either have secondary blue or yellow hues. Blue hues cast warmer and richer tones to an emerald. As such, these emeralds tend to be priced higher than ones with more pronounced yellow hues. Regardless of what secondary hue an emerald has, the stronger and purer the green color is, the higher the quality of the emerald.
According to the Gemological Institute of America, the emerald is considered to a “Type III” gemstone. This means that most emeralds have naturally occurring flaws on them, which are called inclusions. While these inclusions are common, the nature of these inclusions can have a big impact on an emerald’s quality and value.
When buying an emerald, it’s important to look at where its inclusions are placed. So, remember to bring along a loupe (a small magnifying glass used by many jewelers and buyers of precious stones).
Inclusions that are near the surface of the emerald are more prone to eventual damage, especially chipping. On the other hand, emeralds with inclusions that are too deep can eventually break the stone. Large inclusions can also make emeralds look cloudy or dirty.
For the best value, look for emeralds with high clarity, which means a stone that has very minimal, almost-invisible inclusions.
Another factor to be considered when buying and emerald is carat weight. It is easier to judge the quality of the stone when the emerald’s size is huge. Yes, bigger is better when it comes to emeralds, but larger emerald stones are extremely difficult to find – which explains why the price for larger emeralds are considerably higher.
Although cuts may vary depending on your taste, taking the time to consider a specific cut can prove helpful to your budget.
The classic emerald cut used for diamonds and other precious stones allows jewelers to maximize the rough crystal, wielding you a bigger stone with minimal waste. The classic emerald cut is typically rectangular, though sometimes square, with beveled corners and a few step-cut facets.
Emerald jewelry eventually requires some type of setting that complements and accentuates the beauty of the emerald. But in addition to framing and highlighting the emerald, the setting also serves the secondary purpose of supporting the emerald. Since emerald stones have naturally-occurring inclusions, it’s important that its setting provides a reliably secure hold on the stone.
A bezel setting is a great example of security because the whole stone would be surrounded by the metal band. Another good example is a V-prong setting, where the emerald is securely held in place by v-shaped prongs on all sides.
Fake Emeralds vs. Lab-created Emeralds
Because the emerald has become one of the most popular choice among gemstone buyers, the market has seen more imitation emeralds hitting the market. These fake emeralds are typically created from other less expensive green stones (usually sapphires), which are made to look like emeralds. So, buyer beware. If you’re going to invest big money in an emerald, make sure that you’re buying a certified emerald from a reliable seller.
But if you’re on a tight budget but would still like to get an emerald, you might want to consider buying a lab-created one. Lab-created emeralds have the same properties of a natural emerald, minus the inclusions. Because they aren’t naturally occurring, they are also considerably more affordable.
Using treatments on an emerald stone is common practice because of the inclusions present on it. Having your stones treated may ensure its longevity and higher tolerance to damage. Traditional treatments use oil to fill in inclusions, but you may have to retreat your stone every few months. A more modern and sturdy treatment uses resin to fill in the inclusions. Make sure to ask for a stone with clear treatment so you can see its natural color.
What men should know about buying jewelry for a woman
What a woman wears says a lot about what she wants to convey to the world. Much like everything else, a modern woman meticulously plans her what she wears, how she wears it and when. Especially for special occasions, the planning alone can often take days. She clothes herself in fabrics that make her feel confident and beautiful. Those heels aren’t just about keeping up with fashion trends, rather they make her literally and figuratively feel like she is on top of the world.
But it’s not just clothing that makes a woman feel magnificent. It’s her jewelry as well. Jewelry has always been a staple for luxurious costumes in classic movies, showing off just how elegant a woman can be. Designers like Bulgari, Piaget, and Dior are the pinnacle of high-end jewelry. But, what if you’re not on a Breakfast at Tiffany’s level in your relationship yet? You don’t have to be getting engaged to get the most important woman in your life something shiny and special. But what type of jewelry should you be getting that special woman? Here are some ideas.
Bracelets are the “safe” option when purchasing for a girlfriend or just friend in your life. And if you’ve only started going out recently, you can’t go wrong with a shiny chain or bedazzled bangle. A bracelet is commonly understood as saying that she’s not your significant other just yet, but a bracelet gift early in a relationship often signals that the relationship has potential.
In addition to being a safe first jewelry gift in a budding relationship, bracelets also offer options for taking it up a notch. Consider personalizing bracelets with custom engraving or charms that have been specially designed (or have special meaning) for her. Pandora bracelets are very popular today, as they’re designed to add a variety of charms. The good news is that bracelets can fit virtually any budget and still look extremely classy.
If your relationship is beyond the bracelet stage, the next level in the “jewelry with meaning” gift is the necklace. Hanging around your wife’s or girlfriend’s neck, your gift will be advertised to the world. Specifically, it will be advertising how much you care about this woman.
Necklaces can be dainty or a statement piece. But, don’t forget the bling. Finding a small custom jeweler in town can be a challenge, but what is life without a little challenge. Definitely make a little more effort than grabbing something from the mall kiosk when choosing the perfect necklace. A custom necklace, even one that is inexpensive, will show to her just how into her you are and how much effort you are willing to put into the relationship. The personalized touch will stick with her forever. To find out what type of necklace she might like, pay attention to what she currently owns and wears.
Rings are for the woman in your life that you are serious about. Giving her a ring does not necessarily mean you are proposing. You can get her a ring for virtually any occasion! But rings hold a deeper meaning and value, so choose wisely and carefully. An important rule to remember is that if she’s expecting a proposal, then the only ring you should be considering is an engagement ring. If you’re not ready to propose but still want to show how much she means to you, then consider a necklace or earring.
But if you are already engaged or are looking for a gift for your wife, then another ring would be a great statement of your enduring love. If you’re desperate for ring ideas, start by paying attention to the rings she currently owns. You can also ask her about what type of rings she prefers, and watch what she looks at at the store. There are many different kinds of rings to choose from, such as dainty, cocktail and even promise rings. And if you still can’t figure out what to get her, consider finding a ring with her birthstone — especially on her birthday.