Pearl Buying Guide

Choosing the Right Pearl

Zales offers a selection of cultured Freshwater, Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea pearls in a variety of styles, ranging from simple studs and strands, to pearl and diamond options. Pearls are available in a varying price ranges so you can find the perfect pearl look to fit both your style and your budget. Our Pearl Buyer's Guide will help you understand the grading process and what to look for when purchasing pearl jewelry of any type.


As the oyster, mussel or other mollusk creates a pearl, the layers of nacre don't always adhere smoothly and spots and bubbles can occur. Of course, pearls with the smoothest surfaces are the highest in quality and are graded as such.

Zales uses the A‐D System for grading pearls:

  • A Grade – The highest‐quality pearl. A grade pearls have very high luster with only minor imperfections over less than 10% of its surface. These imperfections are then used as marks for drill holes. The majority of the pearls used in Zales' pearl jewelry are A grade.
  • B Grade – High or medium luster. The surface of a B grade pearl may have some visible imperfections, but over no more than 30% of its area.
  • C Grade – Medium luster with surface defects over not more than 60% of the surface area.
  • D Grade – May have many slight defects, but no deep ones, spread over 60% of its surface; or deep defects over no more than 60% of its surface; or a combination of minor and deep defects over no more than 60% of its surface. In this grade of pearl, the luster is irrlevant. Even the most lustrous pearls will be graded D if their surface is blemished to this extent.


The most commonly work color of pearls is white or off white, however cream, yellow, pink, silver and black are also popular. Pearls can also have a hint of secondary color, or overtone, which is seen when light reflects off the pearl surface. For example, a pearl strand may appear white, but when examined more closely, a pink overtone may become apparent.

Pearls can also be dyed most any color of the rainbow. Rich greens, blues, reds and other colors make traditional pearl jewelry seem more modern and trendy.


Pearls produce a deep, intense shine referred to as luster. This is the most important feature of a pearl and should be your primary concern. Luster is the sharpness and intensity of reflections on the pearl's surface. To recognize a finer luster, look at the clarity of images that are reflected in the pearl's surface. The closer to a mirror image you see, the better the luster. Pearls with fine luster also seem to glow warmly from within. While most pearls are lustrous, luster is more evident on larger pearls because there is a larger deposit of nacre.


Zales offers pearls in many shapes and sizes. Round is traditionally the most favored shape, however rice‐, potato‐, oval‐ and baroque‐shaped pearls are gaining in popularity.


The size of the pearl depends mostly on the type of pearl. Freshwater pearls range in size from about 2.0‐12.0mm, while South Sea pearls can reach up to 20.0mm in size.

The size of the pearls used in any piece of jewelry is important for both aesthetic and financial reasons. Larger pearls are normally preferred for stands or necklaces, however they may be less desirable for earrings since they can often divert attention away from the wearer. In addition, larger pearls integrated into pearl rings are attractive but are often bulky and difficult to wear. Finally, the larger the pearl the greater the cost, so the educated shopper should balance the size of the pearl with the expected cost.

Pearl Similarity

When searching for pearl jewelry, you should carefully look at how well matched the pearls are. For instance, a graduated pearl strand will have pearls that range in size from smallest to largest and back again, yet all the pearls should appear uniform in color and luster. With many subtleties in color, shape and finish, even a slight difference can create an unbalanced appearance. Look for pearls that are similar, while keeping in mind that those pearls that closely match will be more expensive.

Caring for Your Pearls

Pearls are an organic gem and rate only a 3 on the Mohs scale, meaning they are soft and easily scratched. They require specific care to protect them and keep them looking beautiful. The following Do's and Don'ts will help keep your pearl jewelry looking lustrous for years to come.

  • DO use a soft, lint‐free cloth to wipe your pearls after every wearing.
  • DON'T use toothbrushes, scouring pads or any other abrasive material to clean your pearls.
  • DO use a simple, non‐detergent soap and warm water to clean your pearls occasionally.
  • DON'T use any cleaners with vinegar, ammonia or chlorine bleach on your pearls.
  • DO store your pearls away from other jewelry to keep them from getting scratched. A soft storage bag is best.
  • DON'T wear pearls while applying hair sprays, perfumes. Put them on last!
  • DO wear your pearls! They don't like being stored away and their luster and glow will improve when worn regularly.