Looking for the perfect place to buy pearl jewelry online?
You're in the right place!
In this Learning Jewelry guide I'll answer common questions like:
- What Should You Look For When Buying Pearls Online?
- Are Pearls Good For An Engagement Ring?
- How Do You Know You're Getting A Good Deal?
- What Are The Red Flags To Watch Out For When Buying?
What Are Pearls?
Pearl has been one of the most famous gemstones around, often cited in socialite and vintage wear. Many of us can recall a piece of pearl jewelry our mother or grandmother might have owned.
It is also the birthstone for those born in June.
Pearls are made by living creatures called mollusks. Different mollusks create different kinds of pearls. But, we'll go more in-depth a little later.
Many people enjoy a strand of pearls while others like to mix it up with other gemstones. But is pearl jewelry the right kind of jewelry for you? Let's find out!
Top 4 Best Places to Buy Pearl Jewelry Online
If you need the list quick, here are my top picks for finding quality pearl jewelry from reputable online dealers. Keep reading for more information about each of these shops.
1. James Allen
2. Blue Nile
4. Kay Jewelers
1. James Allen
Pearl jewelry at James Allen ranges in price from under $500 up to $6000. These are standard prices for high quality pearl jewelry, with no premium or middle man. James Allen has South Sea pearls, Akoya pearls, and Tahitian pearls. They also carry freshwater pearl jewelry as well.
James Allen is by far the best place to purchase pearls from.
They have a wide range of options when it comes to pearl jewelry, whether you're looking for small pearls or large. When shopping for pearls, luster is the most important factor. Luster is the light reflected off the surface of the pearl.
Most online jewelry stores will only show you images of their pearls, but James Allen shows you the luster in action via their 360˚ viewing technology. Check out these exquisite pink sapphire and pink pearl earrings set in 14K white gold below and see its 360 view here:
Spinning those earrings slowly really lets you see the iridescence and beauty of the light reflected off those earrings, don't you think?
And if great prices, high quality, and transparency wasn't enough to convince you, James Allen also gives a free lifetime warranty. This warranty covers all metalwork such as rhodium, stone tightening, polishing, and cleaning.
You also get one free ring resizing in one year.
- Large selection
- Affordable prices
- Lifetime warranty
- Clear 360˚ view
- no certifications for pearls
2. Blue Nile
Blue Nile has many different pieces of pearl jewelry. They sell high-quality real pearls, but once again, all of them are cultured. As far as pearl types go, you can find both gold and white South sea pearls as well as Akoya pearls and Tahitian pearls.
The prices of pearl jewelry at Blue Nile start around $250 and climb exponentially very quickly. Most of the cheaper freshwater pearls will be under $500. Any specially named pearls will command a much higher price, like this beautiful strand of multicolor pearls with an 18K white gold clasp:
If you're looking for baroque pearls, Blue Nile offers a nice selection of them, but the prices are still pretty up there for baroque shapes.
In fact, my favorite thing about Blue Nile's pearl collection is that they have many unique pearl settings that you don't see very often. Blue Nile carries some of the finest high end jewelry around and has a great reputation among online jewelry stores. They offer free returns, 30 day return policy, and free shipping.
Blue Nile has a manufacturer's warranty on all their jewelry. This means that if there is an issue that keeps happening over and over, such as a stone falling out, they will fix it. They will only cover your pearl jewelry if it has a design flaw, not for wear and tear. Any repairs or rhodium plating you might need for white gold jewelry will be at your own cost.
- Carries variety of pearls
- Larger collection
- Natural and cultured
- Most are high end pieces
- Warranty doesn't cover wear and tear
3. Brilliant Earth
Brilliant Earth is a well-known online diamond retailer that also sells a large collection of gemstone jewelry. They focus their efforts in the diamond industry to giving back to the community and many collections go toward a cause.
Their collection of pearl jewelry is nice, especially for a place that doesn't specialize in them.
They have just over 40 pieces of pearl jewelry. Most of it is made up of pearl necklaces and pearl earrings. They only carry 6 pear rings, but they're more fashion than engagement.
I think it's cool they carry a couple of baroque pearl jewelry, like these pearl drop earrings below:
They only carry white Akoya pearls or freshwater cultured pearl jewelry. If you're looking for South Sea or Tahitian pearls, you're better off choosing one of our other picks.
Keeping the theme of giving back, all of Brilliant Earth's pearl jewelry is made from recycled metals. That means it's much better for the environment. They also give you a wooden jewelry box as well as eco-conscious packing materials.
Brilliant Earth also offers all customers the option of a paid repair service plan. It lasts for three years and customers have the opportunity to re-up it. The cost is based on how much the item you're purchasing is.
The problem is they don't really tell you about it on their site unless you go searching for it. If you don't talk to anyone, you might miss it. The warranty has to be called and added on after you make your purchase online.
- Medium sized collection
- Recycled metals
- Eco-Friendly boxes
- High quality pearls
- Only Akoya or freshwater
- Not many rings
4. Kay Jewelers
If you're wanting to purchase pearls at Kay, you're better off going to their online store rather than a physical location. They will often have a small collection of pearls.
Back when I was working, they sold a lot of Mikimoto pearls around Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. The in-store collection will feature freshwater cultured pearl jewelry with no known origin often set with white sapphires or cubic zirconia, instead of diamond.
If you're looking for a specific pearls, like a white South Sea pearl or a Tahitian black pearl, you're going to have better luck finding it online. For instance, a chocolate pearl might catch your eye.
Chocolate pearls are Tahitian pearls that have been bleached to give a rich and velvety brown color. Many companies have chosen to brand these pearls, such as Kay's partner, LeVian. Check out this chocolate pearl ring set in 14K rose gold with LeVian's chocolate and vanilla diamonds:
Gorgeous looking isn't it?
But, keep in mind that the LeVian name is where a good chunk of that price goes to. I have no doubts you can find a less expensive chocolate pearl in the jewelry market online. But if you like unique, LeVian is a great option.
Kay doesn't have a warranty that covers the pearl itself, but has a free warranty on accompanying side stones such as diamonds. As long as you get it checked every 6 months at one of their locations. they'll replace it free of charge.
The metalwork of setting the stones and pearl is not free. If you want your chain, prongs, and rhodium covered, you'll want to purchase the Extended Service Plan. The cost is based on a sliding scale per item. LeVian jewelry doesn't have an ESP, but warranties their own jewelry through Kay, but it takes a month.
- Option to purchase warranty
- Many items online
- Affordable pearl jewelry
- Boring choices
- LeVian is overpriced for specialty pearls
FAQ When Buying Pearl Jewelry Online
Are Pearls Good For An Engagement Ring?
I do not recommend pearls for engagement rings. Pearls are one of the softest popular gemstones available in the jewelry industry. On the Moh scale of hardness, pearls rate a 2.5 out of 10. Diamond is a 10, making it the hardest mineral known to man.
Pearls are very soft and scratch very easily. They require special care, especially in ring settings, though many jewelry stores may not tell you that.
You might wonder why they sell pearl rings at all if they're so fragile. Well, just because I said I don't recommend it, doesn't mean it's not possible. With the proper precautions, you can wear pearls as an engagement ring.
When buying loose pearls, they can come drilled or undrilled. Drilled holes are a good indication of cultured pearls, while undrilled pearls need an X-ray to determine if natural or cultural.
As a rule of thumb, you should pretty much consider all pearls cultured unless explicitly stated otherwise. Drilled pearls are also lower quality and limit jewelry designs, so you should always look for undrilled pearls.
Are Pearls More Expensive?
How expensive a pearl jewelry is depends on a variety of factors, which you'll discover as you read on.
Natural pearls are by far the most expensive, but cultured pearls can get up there in price as well. Most pearl jewelry price depends on any accompanying melee gemstones, setting, and how much precious metal there is.
Cultured freshwater pearls are less expensive than any pearl with a name, such as Tahitian, Akoya, or South Sea. Freshwater pearls are usually the lower price range when looking a jewelry retailers.
What Should You Look For When Buying Pearl Jewelry Online?
You've probably heard of the 4Cs by now, a diamond grading system put forth by the Gemological Institute of America. Colored gemstones also go by a similar system.
For pearls, there isn't any official grading system for them.
However, there are some aspects of a pearl that will be the difference between high end and low end pearl jewelry.
While pearls aren't cut like a faceted gemstone, they do have a shape to be desired. Perfectly round pearls are hard to find, especially if you're purchasing a whole strand.
A round white pearl ring will be much cheaper than a strand of 48 round pearls. If the shape of your pearls is oval or teardrop, you'll notice that the prices of the pearl strand will drop. For irregular shapes throughout the strand, they'll be even cheaper.
Completely round pearls may be more valuable, but pearl jewelry of all shapes and sizes have become very mainstream. Many prefer pearl shapes outside of the round, like seeds. So, if you're wanting round pearls, be prepared for them to have a premium price.
In the GIA system, colored gemstones are most valued and graded by their color and their color tone, hue, and saturation. Pearl color is very different and often difficult to dissect.
All pearls have a base color on the body and what we call an orient, which is a color overtone. To tell the difference between the a pearl's body color and orient or overtone color, a bright light on the pearl will distinguish the two.
Notice how the light separates the rainbow orient on these cultured black pearls.
As far as body color goes, there are some types of pearl colors that are more valuable than others. The most prized color pearl is white.
Freshwater pearls, Akoya pearls, and South Sea pearls can have white body colors. After white, Tahitian black pearls are the next coveted type of pearl. These pearls have a grayish to greenish body color.
There are less common pearls colors that are valuable for their natural rarity to include red, pink, blue, purple, and gold pearl strands. Natural pearls in these colors are difficult to obtain. If the colors are all uniform in pearl necklaces, they're more likely to be dyed.
An orient is in an iridescent sheen found in a pearl. An overtone is when the pearl shows large blotches of another color in its body color. White pearls with a pink overtone are considered rare and desirable in the pearl community.
Tahitian pearls are a fine example of what orient is. Many times they will have a green, pink, or purple, or rainbow orient. Sometimes the orient will be described as peacock colored orient.
In the current market, Akoya pearls with a pink overtone are most valued, but blue Akoya pearls are very rare. You'll come across treated pearls that can emulate these looks, but when natural, these kinds of pearls go for a higher price.
Gold pearls from the South Sea are also very rare to find naturally, but treated gold pearls are much easier to find. However, if you do come across a golden South Sea pearl, know that you are witnessing a rarity among the pearl industry that would make a nice investment.
The clarity of a gemstone refers to how transparent the stone is when the light is reflected through it. Pearls are opaque specimens, meaning you can't see through it. Gemstones today are either referred to as opaque, translucent, or transparent.
Most of the pearl market is 90% opaque, but a translucent pearl is desirable. Translucent pearls happen when the nacre is comprised of thinner layers. Natural pearls and freshwater pearls can have higher translucency in the pearl industry. The thickness of the nacre will have a solid impact of the value and quality of the pearl.
While thinner nacre can improve translucency, it also has a habit of impacting it as well. Often times thinner nacre doesn't always cover the entire pearl perfectly in a solid layer. If the layer is too thin or uneven, your pearls can appear dirtied and dull.
The nacre is also what protects the pearl from damage, so if it's too thin, the pearl won't last as long. You should pay close attention to the thickness of your nacre, especially when wearing a pearl ring you bump around all day.
Pearls can have blemishes, but not inclusions like you'd see on a faceted gemstone. Pearl imperfections are little nicks, dimples, or bumps you can see by looking at piece of pearl jewelry. If a jeweler can't hide these imperfections, the price is lowered. Surface imperfections affect the pearl's luster, which lowers it's value.
Let's talk about luster...
The best pearls on the market will have high luster. The luster of a pearl determines how reflective the surface. Even if there isn't an industry standard on pearls, luster is often what separates an AAA grade pearl from an AA grade pearl for most companies. Pearls of Joy, a big pearl source, has a great video that demonstrates these differences.
Normally, we talk about gemstones in carat weight, but sometimes we refer to colored gemstones in size. Pearls are the same. While smaller pearls don't command large prices, larger pearls can increase cost significantly. Natural pearls over 8mm increase price drastically.
The size of a pearl can range based on the type of pearl. For example, South Sea pearls will grow larger than Akoya pearls. However, it's very difficult to find natural pearls of large size, if any size at all. Most large pearls that are pretty affordable will be cultured.
Red Flags When Buying Pearl Jewelry Online?
The biggest red flag you'll come across when looking at pearls online is misrepresentation. Shopping for pearls in general can be pretty overwhelming, because they're unlike any other gemstone.
The biggest confusion that pearls ignite in a buyer is the differentiation between natural and cultured pearls. Similar to natural and lab created diamonds, the main difference between a natural and cultured pearl is the way the pearl was formed.
Natural pearls occur when an irritant is introduced to the mussel or oyster in a natural habitat. Cultured pearls come from pearl farms. Pearl farmers physically introduce the irritant to an oyster or mussel and it begins covering it with nacre.
Cultured pearls make up most of the pearl market. Cultured pearls are the lab-created or synthetic version of a pearl. Instead of the magic happening on its own, we take matters into our own hands and create a duplicate. Cultured pearls may cost hundreds, but natural pearls can earn up to 6 digit prices.
If you are in the market looking for natural pearls, make sure to get a lab report that shows an X-ray of the pearl. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is the most trusted source in the jewelry industry. While pearls don't have official grading reports, you can get a pearl report from the GIA.
One report is called the Pearl Identification Report. It tells you which mollusk (if it can be determined) your pearl came from, the size, shape, color, whether it's cultured or natural, whether it's saltwater or freshwater, and any treatments that they can detect.
The other report is called the Pearl Identification and Classification Report. This report gives you all the above information, but also tells you the luster quality, surface quality, nacre thickness, and how close they match, if there's multiple pearls in the jewelry piece.
A report like either one of these will help keep you from getting duped by someone selling cultured pearls as if they were natural. This can be done with mounted pearls or loose pearls.
How to get the Best Deal When Buying Pearl Jewelry Online?
Observe the Pearl
While there are a bunch of factors that go into the overall value of the pearl, you can be certain that luster is one of the biggest factors. However, luster can be difficult to see based on a picture. The truth is, you can't really tell a pearl's luster unless you can see it in real time.
Thankfully, there are some online pearl retailers that allow you to see more than just a fuzzy stock photo. James Allen has wonderful 360 viewing technology that allows you to rotate a pearl jewelry piece so you can see the luster from all angles.
Other pearl specialists may use video imaging, HD pictures that allow you to zoom, or other fancy techniques of letting you know what you're getting before you get it.
And if they don't (not all reputable sources do), just make sure the pearl retailer has a solid return policy without any loopholes. If you're still not sure, just know that every retailer mentioned here is safe to purchase from. Just make sure to read everything in that return policy so you know what to do if it isn't your style.
Beware of Branded Pearls
If you've read any of our other gemstone guides, you probably know that branded jewelry pieces charge more than they should. The same goes for pearls. One of the biggest names you'll hear in the pearl world is Mikimoto.
Mikimoto was the first person to introduce the idea of cultured pearls. Initially, the Mikimoto company had its own pearl farms, but now they focus more on their high end jewelry line. Mikimoto pearl jewelry used to be found at Kay's, but they have since removed their collection.
Mikimoto pearls sell for thousands of dollars, and they aren't even natural. But because Mikimoto was the Father of Cultured Pearls, the name commands a more expensive retail price than the exact same quality pearls with no brand name.
In no way am I saying don't purchase brand name pearls. Just know that if you want an affordable quality pearl or pearls, you don't need a brand name to tell you that. Be aware that when purchasing brand name, you are likely paying more for the name rather than the pearl.
Still, I wouldn't mind having my own Mikimoto pearls. Mikimoto is undoubtedly a huge part of the pearl industry and a piece of pearl history that every jewelry nut like myself should want to own.