What to look for pearl jewelry

No matter which style you choose, or whether you buy pearls from a local jewelry store, large retail chain or Internet jewelry store (which should offer adequate descriptions of what you're buying along with a money-back guarantee), keep in mind these tips when you're shopping for pearls and you won't go wrong:

You'll pay more for larger pearls jewelry. In general, a larger pearl takes longer to form, and the chances of finding a perfectly round, large pearl are slim. After the 7.5-8mm mark for freshwater cultured pearls and akoya cultured pearls, the most popular pearl types, prices rise dramatically. A 6.5mm strand is both lovely and affordable and perfect for young women.

Pay attention to luster and surface. Pearls should have a high luster, or surface sheen, meaning they reflect light well. They should also be free from large blemishes such as chips and pits, although small blemishes are acceptable. An absolutely perfect strand is likely faux. Pearls are, after all, a natural product, and small variations are to be expected and do not detract from the pearls?value.

Round is the hands-down favorite shape. While baroque pearls are gorgeous, and button and coin pearls are modern and affordable, when it comes to classic pearls, round is still in. To check that pearls are uniformly round, ask the jeweler or read the Internet description. If you can handle the strand, roll it on a table. Matched pearls will roll smoothly.

Thickness is important. Most statement pearls jewelry sold today are cultured pearls, and the best ones are formed in oysters or mussels that have been implanted with small, mother-of-pearl beads and mantle tissue or mantle tissue only and left in the water long enough for a sufficient coating of nacre to form. Avoid pearls that have been implanted with large plastic or glass beads or harvested prematurely; they will flake and peel easily.

Pay attention to uniformity. Make sure that pearls in a piece of jewelry are the same size, color, shape and luster.

Beware: Some jewelry makers try to hide smaller or imperfect pearls near the clasp.

Choose color carefully. Pearls look best if they flatter the skin tone of the wearer.

Follow these pearl-buying tips, choose wisely, and your graduate will have a jewelry staple she'll treasure forever.

A graduate of the Gemological Institute of American Graduate Pearls program, Amy Drescher is a fashion writer and accessories buyer for www.moonriverpearls.com. She welcomes your questions. Reach her at adrescher@moonriverpearls.com.