Necklaces; Pearls: Grades, Types, Sizes, Shapes; Pendants
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A necklace may be nothing more than one of the hundreds of metal chains that we carry at (platinum, gold, stainless steel or even leather), a Pendant combined with a chain, a string of pearls, or a combination of any or all of these, and always check metal chain types, since those are also considered necklaces.  For information on necklace lengths and chain width, see Chain Length/Width.


June birthstone. A pearl begins its life as a tiny impurity (such as a small sea animal or grain of sand) inside the folds of an oyster's or mollusk's fleshy body.  Because it is an irritant to the animal, it is slowly coated with a hard substance, called nacre, which builds up in layers over time, forming a finished pearl.  In a cultured pearl, the irritant is placed there by the farmer; in a natural pearl (extremely rare), the irritant occurs naturally.  Thus, both cultured and natural pearls are genuine (not artificial)--they are often dyed different colors to enhanced their beauty.  Mother of Pearl is the nacre which lines the inside of the oyster or mollusk shell, and is often used in jewelry and jewelry boxes.  For more information, visit the (Cultured Pearl Association of America) website. 

Since all genuine pearls are grown over time by the oyster, they will vary in shape, luster and color.  Because of this, there have developed over the centuries terminology to quantify a pearl's characteristics.  These are not always consistent from one source to the next.  At, we use the following descriptions:

Pearl grades: 

The quality of a pearl is determined by its Lustre (reflectivity and depth of shine) and Surface (smoothness vs. pits/blemishes on surface).  Some suppliers use "A", "B" and "C" grades, where "A" represents the highest lustre and/or the highest surface quality.  Thus, a pearl rated "AA" would have high lustre and surface quality.  Others may use terms such as "very good" to represent "A", "good" to represent "B", and so on.  Shape, color and size are not factors of quality and are quantified separately--pearl colors can vary greatly, since they are naturally produced, and photography cannot fully capture these nuances.  Natural pearls are often dyed to darken a natural color, or to simulate a naturally-occurring color.  At, we will tell you in the item description if dye has been used for color enhancement.

Pearl Strands: 

When considering purchase of a strand, look for knots or knotted beads between the pearls--this assures that they will not be lost if the strand breaks, and also prevents friction wear between adjacent pearls.  The clasp should be secure and designed to stay closed under the weight of the strand.  Some strands are elastic, and are thus lacking knots or a clasp. You will find a great selection of pearl strands and necklaces at  For information on strand lengths, see Chain Length.

Pearl types:

Akoya Cultured:  The most lustrous of all pearls, they have historically been grown in Japan, though China is now producing them in sizes below 8mm (at considerably lower cost).
Freshwater Cultured:  Grown in fresh, rather than salt, water, these pearls are less lustrous than saltwater varieties, but are popular because of their variety of shapes and colors. More than one pearl may be grown in each oyster/mollusk. Sources: Japan, China, USA.  These are the lowest cost cultured pearls.
South Sea Cultured:  Grown in large tropical oysters, these pearls are relatively rare and of large size (10 to 20mm).  Consequently, they command higher prices.  Sources: Australia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines.
Tahitian Cultured:  Uniquely large-sized and dark-colored (light grey to black, green, purple), these pearls command high prices and are primarily grown in French Polynesia.

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Pearl shapes: 

Baroque:  A pearl shape that is not round, oval or button--any odd, misshapen shape.  If lustre and surface are good, these shapes are desirable because of their variety.
Button: Freshwater cultured pearl that is not round, but flatter in shape, with an oval cross-section.  Used on rings and earrings where a lower profile is desired.
Circlé:  Any pearl which possesses an indentation surrounding it as a latitude line on a globe--it may be centered, as the equator, or located toward its "pole".
Mabe:  Hemispherical cultured pearl grown on the inside shell rather than within the flesh of the oyster.  This pearl is used in rings and earrings where its flat back is not visible because it is attached to the jewelry piece.  Sources: Japan, Indonesia, French Polynesia, Australia.
Round:  The traditional and most sought-after shape, it commands the highest price.
Roundel:  Almost round, but slightly flattened.  Similar to button, but not as flat.

Pearl Sizes: 

Pearls are sized by measuring their diameter.  Sizes above 9-10mm are much more rare and thus more costly than smaller sizes.

Pearl Size Comparison

Caring for Pearl Jewelry:

  • Avoid contact with perfume and hairspray
  • Put pearls on last, after applying makeup
  • Wipe your pearls with a soft clean cloth
  • Do not store them with other jewelry


A pendant is sold without a chain, which allows maximum flexibility of choice!  If a pendant includes the chain, it is usually referred to as a necklace.  The pendant is suspended from the chain by a bail (below), which is usually visible at the top of the pendant, although some pendants have the bail on the back so that it is not visible.  Pendant dimensions usually include the bail.  See our great selection of Pendants and Charms at!

Bail: The loop of metal on a pendant or a slide through which the necklace chain passes.  Chains must be sized to allow the chain closure to pass through the bail.  Some slides and pendants do not have a bail--instead, the chain passes through the pendant itself.  Bails may be attached to the pendant with a ring (movable), or may be immovably attached. Some bail designs are actually clasps, which allow the pendant to be easily replaced, such as a G-Lock (shaped like a "G" when open) or Lobster clasp.

Slide: A pendant which has no bale--the chain passes through the slide itself, either through holes or slots formed into it, or through an opening in the design.

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