Choosing Pearls


Choosing a pearl necklace that matches a persons’ uniqueness is an essential step in the buying process. There are six important criteria to bear in mind when choosing pearls, of these lustre is the most significant.

Lustre Shape
Nacre Thickness Surface Perfection
Colour Size

We will look at how to choose the correct necklace length to enhance the wearers features and wardrobe, how to perceive the true colour of pearls and check for nacre thickness, we investigate variables behind the cost of pearls and the differences between natural and cultured pearls, and share some facts on imitation “pearls”. We hope this information will help you choose the most enhancing pearls for yourself or your loved one.



Always choose the pearls with the deepest lustre within the budget set, if necessary compromising on size and surface perfection, as it is the lustre which will light up the wearer’s face and will therefore be most flattering. All the pearls we use in Coleman Douglas Pearls jewellery are individually chosen for their lustre. This is very important, as dull pearls however big will do nothing for their owner's beauty, the dullest pearls can look like a cooked fish eye which as you can imagine will not only be unflattering but will also look heavy to the eye of the beholder.

Pearl Lustre Dull and Bright

The thicker the nacre is, the longer the pearls will last, and usually the better their lustre will be. Check that pearls do not have dull sections by rolling them on a flat white surface, if the pearl "blinks" it means that the nacre coating is too thin as what your eye is discerning is the nucleus within.

Nacre Thickness Cultured & Natural Pearl

Always choose the colour that best suits the skin tone of the wearer; also bear in mind the colour of the eyes. Bluish-grey pearls will generally suit someone with blue eyes, while a peacock green Tahitian pearl will suit someone with green eyes. Warm cream to gold pearls will suit a complexion that tans easily. Another factor that affects the overall harmony of the face is hair colour and this should be taken into consideration when selecting pearls.

A rough guideline of pearl colours that suit different skin tones is set out below:

  • Olive toned skin – golden pearls
  • Dark skin - white or warm cream pearls
  • Pinkish rosy complexion - rose to cream pearls
  • Pale skin - rose to white pearls

The best cultured and natural pearls have overtones; this effect makes the pearl very attractive and interesting to the eye of the beholder. Warm cream overtones can bring a softness to the final effect, Bright Pink overtones suit people with Blue or Green eyes. Pearls with peacock overtones can be worn with clothes of any colour, as the pearls themselves will echo any tone. The best way to ascertain which colour is the most appropriate is to try on various tonalities within the colour that you are looking to choose from. For example there are four main tonalities within white pearls. Intrigued? Order your pearl necklace online or arrange a bespoke pearl jewellery appointment with our pearl expert in Central London. 

Choosing the correct Colour of Pearls

Choose what looks best. Irregular shaped pearls will best suit someone with prominent or irregular features - in other words an interesting face; however, a classic beauty with very fine or regular features will suit round pearls.  Should you be interested in looking further into the various shapes found in different types of pearl,  please access this information through Unique Shapes in Pearls

Shape Round and Baroque cultured pearls

Check the purity of the pearl surface; a few marks give the pearls the hallmark of genuineness, but very blemished pearls will have less value. It is important to steer well clear of pearls that have dull pitting or dull feather markings as they will inevitably catch the eye of the beholder. By dull markings we mean a marking that has the appearance of a cooked fish eye or chalk -these “blind” markings reduce the value of the pearl significantly.

Pearl Surface Perfection

Out of the six factors that we have just looked at, size is of least importance, it is, however, essential to consider the overall build of the wearer. If she were very tall and broad a tiny single strand of seed pearls would look lightweight.

Pearl Sizes


To decide the length and number of rows the wearer requires, bear in mind their lifestyle and preferred necklines, a predilection for V necks might mean that a graduated row, a long row that has an accent in front, a short row with a pendant motif or simply a gorgeous pendant pearl might be the most appropriate pearl look; however, a preference for wearing round or cowl necklines might favour a classic round row or a rope of pearls. A Choker will accentuate the beauty of the shoulders, a graduated row will lengthen the face or slim down the neck. At a later stage in life a double row of pearls at the base of the neck will conceal the wrinkles of maturity or possibly the broadened base of the neck otherwise known as the “dowagers neck”. 

If pearls are to be worn away from the face, for example as a long necklace, the colour chosen can be more accentuated or stronger than the one that would normally be chosen to wear next to the face.

A guideline on necklace lengths:

  • Choker 13-15 inches
  • Standard short 16 inches
  • Standard long 18-20 inches
  • Matinee 24 inches
  • Opera 30 inches
  • Long opera 36 inches
  • Rope 40 inches
Necklace Size Chart Long Pearl Lengths


Daylight is the best light to choose pearls by as artificial light can affect the colour and overtones of the pearl.

Only daylight will give the cleanest impression of the base pearl colour and the full range of overtones that the pearl possesses, at Coleman Douglas Pearls we insist on having true daylight for our studio, it makes all the difference between choosing a good strand of pearls and the perfect strand of pearls. Always place pearls on a white, flat surface. This will show up any blemishes the pearl might have and will allow you to check for “the blinking effect” which reveals very thin nacre by rolling the strand on the flat white paper. Choose pearl colours in daylight
If possible when viewing drilled pearls use a magnifying glass or jeweller’s loupe, this allows you to see within the drill hole and will help assess the thickness of pearl nacre. When viewed in this way the nacre on a cultured pearl will show up as a coating over the resin or mother of pearl bead; the border line is very clear rather like the side view of icing on a cake. Bear in mind that a good coating on a cultured Akoya oyster pearl is 0.5mm thick the minimum is 0.25mm. Tahitian pearls have a recognized minimum acceptable nacre thickness which is 0.8mm however the average thickness is over 1.5mm. South Sea pearls do not have a required minimum thickness however their nacre thickness averages between 2 and 2.5mm or thicker still.  Nacre Coating on a Cultured Pearl Nucleus


To have an idea of how much pearls should cost it is important to bear in mind that out of every 100 pearls cultured:Pearl Success Ratio

  • 10% die
  • 10% become diseased
  • 30% of the pearl bearing oysters expel the core that has so painstakingly been introduced
  • 50% survive, out of which
  • 20% are rejected as unsalable
  • 25% are sell-able
  • 5% are the best quality


Natural pearls to the naked eye can look very similar to cultured pearls. The best way to find out whether oyster pearls are cultured or natural is to discover by x-ray if there is a mother of pearl bead at the centre of the pearl.

There are a few further signs to look out for with the naked eye:

  • Natural pearls have smaller drill holes, usually 0.04mm, as natural pearls are valued not only by colour, amount of lustre or orient,  purity of skin and perfection of shape, but also by their weight. Naturally farmers keep as much of the original Natural Pearl Layersweight on the pearl as possible. Cultured pearls normally have a drill hole diameter of 0.06mm  for ease of stringing.
  • If the drill hole is unusually large it could also mean that this pearl is natural, particularly if on inspection the interior of the pearl looks increasingly dark and has no tell tale sign of the nacre cover over a bead. It will be fairly old and might well have a thin bamboo stopper placed inside the drill hole in order to help the stringer achieve even knotting within the necklace.
  • A natural pearl strand will usually have variations in size, shape and overtones as due to the scarcity of these pearls it is very difficult and time consuming to create an exactly matching row. It has been known for people to wait decades for pearls of a perfect match to be found.

As a broad indication, natural pearls cost around ten times what their cultured counterparts do. Unless the pearl or pearls in question are of a very desirable shape, unusually large in size or come with distinct lineage like the 50.6 carat natural pearl La Peregrina Necklacecalled La Peregrina which in December 2011 sold at a Christie’s auction for US$11.8 million.

La Peregrina a rare drop shape natural pearl the size of a Pigeon egg can trace its roots to the fortuitous discovery by a slave in the Gulf of Panama. The slave was granted his freedom, and his owner was given land to cultivate and the position of Mayor in the town where he lived. Sadly the pearl did not continue bestowing good fortune along the way, it was presented to Phillip II of Spain who sent it as a wedding gift to Mary Tudor, upon her demise La Peregrina returned to the Spanish court, the Emperor Napoleon I of France named his brother Joseph Bonaparte king of Spain, Joseph helped himself to many Spanish crown jewels and La Peregrina was one of them. La Peregrina was then bequeathed to Napoleon the III and became a favourite in his wife’s jewellery box,  Princess Eugénie [née de Montijo] was one of history’s outstanding pearl addicts, with a good eye for rarity and quality, she owned at one time or another many of the famous pearls of today. When her husband Napoleon III was deposed in 1815 they went to England, in 1837 they were constrained to sell La Peregrina due to a shortage of funds which they did to the Marquis of Abercorn. The marquis’s son, drilled the Peregrina and recorded its exact weight, 10.192 grams. When, in 1969, Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor a pearl reputed to be La Peregrina for $37,000, its authenticity was challenged. However, due to the exact record of its weight being kept, experts were able to confirm that it was indeed the famous pearl. The current anonymous owner of La Peregrina has bought not just a pearl but history in a pearl shaped like a teardrop.


Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I wore wax filled Venetian glass beads with an iridescent finish these were sewn onto her dress. They were the first “pearl impostors” at the time they each cost 1 penny.

The first imitation “pearl” as we know it today was created in France by Mr Jacquin who concentrated fish slime from a Bleak and mixed it with varnish in the 17th Century and called it “Essence of Orient”. This method is still used to this day to make man made fish slime covered plastic beads. The fish slime that is used nowadays comes from Salmon and Herring. 

There is another method to produce imitation, faux or fake “pearls”, which is to cover plastic beads with acrylic paint. A factor worth considering is that the coating on imitation “pearls” will easily chip off. 

It is inaccurate to name anything that is man-made with the term pearl, the completely erroneous description of “Faux pearls” “imitation pearls” has been unscrupulously used by many, and bad habits die hard. Recently a  new type of imitation Princess Anne with Chrissie Douglas “faux” or fake “pearl” has entered the marketplace, they are deceptively called “Semi-cultured pearls” or “Shell pearls” both of which are misnomers. These new imitations are made with crushed mother of pearl mixed with resin or plastic, if they have overtones, these will be uniform throughout the strand..  

Imitation “Pearls” cannot enhance the beauty of the wearer nor attract the eye of the beholder in the same way that true pearls do, as the calcium carbonate crystal structure needed for a pearl to glow is not present. This also means that imitations have no play of light, reflection, refraction, colour or overtones.

Do not be deceived by imitation pearls; they might be expensively designed, packaged or even have individual certificates. Imitation, faux or fake “pearls” have no lustre or inner glow, they shine on the surface and do little for their owner and worse of all imitation pearls are intrinsically worthless. 

To check if a pearl is imitation or cultured or even natural, it has long been customary for people to bite them or pass them across their teeth. Imitation pearls will usually feel very smooth rather like a plastic bead, while true pearls will feel slightly gritty. The “tooth test” is unhygienic as you have no idea whose teeth have been testing the pearl before you, and more importantly your teeth although also made of calcium carbonate have a protein holding them together that is harder than Aragonite, hence your teeth can scratch and damage a real pearl.