The Story Behind Pearl Jewelry & Why They Make a Great Investment

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If someone told you to sell your diamonds for pearls, would you? 


Diamonds, no doubt, are valuable. In fact, they make up some of the most valuable gemstones ever to exist. The legend and lore of diamonds as we know them dates back centuries. But the diamond market really didn’t take off until the mid-1800s when a surplus of diamonds were discovered in a South African mine. The result? A radical shift in the jewelry market for these rare gemstones and the mania for diamonds was born.

But as much as we love diamonds, this post is about pearls. Precious pearls. What was once your grandmother’s heirloom tucked away in your jewelry box, is now a hot commodity seeing the light again. It is one of the industry’s most talked-about revivals. The pearl gemstone has officially returned to the fashion scene in a way that we’ve never seen before. It’s a chic and decorative accent, as well as a gender-breaking statement (cue 2019 Harry Styles at the Met Gala). 

The sentimental value of the pearl is significant. More than you may realize. With a history that dates back centuries, pearls are more than just an accessory. They embody beauty, status, and sophistication. Read on to learn more about the value of pearls, the various pearl types, and why pearls make an extraordinarily smart investment. 

Pearls Throughout History

Everyone knows the Girl With A Pearl Earring, right? Throughout history, pearls have been strongly associated with class, especially royalty. The oldest pearl in the world was discovered in 2012 and it dates back to 5500 B.C. Cleopatra wore pearls and won a bet with them, according to a famous legend. There was even a law passed in ancient Roman times allowing only aristocrats to wear pearls. Queen Mary had quite the eye for pearls and incorporated them in many of her tiaras and repurposed other gemstones into gorgeous jewelry. At the end of the day, flaunting pearls meant something – status. Today, it still means a great deal, and pearls continue to evoke an elevated level of taste and sophistication. 

Types of Pearls 

There are two core categories of pearls: natural pearls and cultured pearls. These come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. 

Natural Pearls 

Natural pearls are extremely rare. They are real pearls produced in mollusks without human assistance. In fact, 1 in every 10,000 oysters contains natural pearls. Due to its rarity, natural pearls are worth much more. And because pearl fishing hardly takes place anymore, almost all natural pearls that you come across now are vintage. But don’t fret. An easy way to add pearls to your collection is by looking at the market’s selection of cultured pearls. 

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Pearl Choker
Cultured Pearls

A majority of pearls in the market today are cultured pearls. These are real pearls but produced with human assistance. Cultured pearls are overall preferred by jewelers to create necklaces, bracelets, and earrings because they’re more cost-effective and uniform in shape. 

Cultured pearls were actually first developed by Kokichi Mikimoto. After years of research and experimentation, Mikimoto received his patent for cultured pearls in 1896. This changed everything in the pearl industry. Natural pearls are extremely difficult to come across, so having the ability to produce cultured pearls was not only beneficial to jewelers wanting to create budget-friendly and aesthetically pleasing pieces, but it’s also a more sustainable option that fulfills global demand. Read more about Mikimoto and other influential names with ties to the AAPI community

Speaking of cultured pearls, there are several types. The South Sea Pearls are considered the “Rolls Royce” of cultured pearls, both for their larger size and rounded perfection. Others include freshwater pearls (which are grown in lakes, rivers, and ponds primarily in China), Akoya pearls, and Tahitian pearls (both of which are saltwater grown). 

product image on white of pearl and diamond necklace at FASHIONPHILE
The Value of the Pearl 

Pearls are valuable. Why? Well, for starters, they’re the only gemstone to come from a living creature. In the fine jewelry industry, pearls fall under the gemstone category, but they’re different from other gemstones because pearls originate from mollusks and contain calcium carbonate properties. They’re naturally stunning on their own, and unlike other gemstones, require no cutting or additional polishing.  

Mother of pearl, also classified as a gemstone, comes from the same creature but is sourced from the iridescent lining of mollusks which is responsible for producing pearls. They’re equally stunning, and many ultra-luxury jewelry brands incorporate mother of pearl (in addition to pearls) throughout their pieces. Think Van Cleef & Arpels, Mikimoto, and Bulgari among others.  

Pearls may be valuable. But the best part is that they’re super attainable, too. Keep in mind that many fashion jewelry pieces will contain faux pearls. These pieces achieve a similar look without breaking the bank. If you’re looking for a long-term investment, stick with real pearls. Our guide on fashion jewelry versus high jewelry and everything in-between can help you better understand the materials used that determine jewelry resale value.  

product image of DAVID YURMAN 18K Yellow Gold Freshwater Pearl Petite Perle Hoop Earrings at FASHIONPHILE
Pearl Jewelry as a Long Term Investment 

Generally speaking, pearl resale value is not as strong as other gemstones such as diamonds, sapphires, and rubies, unfortunately. But pearls as a long-term investment? A wealthy choice indeed. Enjoy them for yourself (self-gifting for Mother’s Day will always be a thing), or give pearls as a surprise for mom or dad. Of course, if you already have them, you can wear them, sell them, or keep them for future generations. Pearls are totally worth it. They will continue to carry meaning, as well as be regarded as an important and precious fashion accessory.   

“The pearl is the queen of gems and the gem of queens.” – anonymous 


Would you switch out your diamonds for some pearls this season, or mix and match them? Shop all pearl jewelry at FASHIONPHILE