I’m trying to buy a nice strand of pearls for my wedding day. I have found many on ebay for under $40. They claim to be genuine and everything, but then other people are selling Akoya pearls for $300 – $1000. What is the difference? Do they look the same?
The reason you are seeing akoya pearls on eBay in the $40 range is because the vast majority of ‘akoya’ pearls there are actually low-grade freshwater pearls. The reason the sellers do not have terrible feedback is simply because most buyers cannot really tell the difference between freshwater and akoya pearls. The sellers that do indeed sell genuine akoya pearls on eBay in the $100 range are selling what is known in the trade as short-culture pearls.
If you are interested in reading the consumer horror stories about pearl sellers on eBay check this forum on pearl-guide.com: http://www.pearl-guide.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=14
Akoya pearls can be cheap. A genuine strand of akoya can be purchased for about $100. But there is an important caveat relating to akoya pearls – the thickness of the nacre.
Akoya pearls are produced by implanting a round bead of mother of pearl into an akoya mollusk along with small piece of mantle tissue. The tissue surrounds the bead in the form of a sack (aka pearl sac) and nacre is deposited around the bead.
A quality akoya pearl will not be harvested for at least a year after implantation. This means there will be approximately .5 mm of nacre deposition around the bead. This is extremely important because a low-quality akoya pearl (short-culture pearl) will be harvested as early as three months after nucleation. The nacre is razor thin at this point, often less than 1/10th of a millimeter.
Pearls with thin nacre such this will be chalky and will not last more than a few months of regular wear. Within a few months of daily wear the nacre will peel off and you will be left with nothing but the bead that was implanted into the mollusk.
Sellers, especially on eBay, can get away with this because there is no internationally recognized system of pearl grading apart from the system set by GIE of Tahiti for Tahitian pearls. This means sellers can claim their pearls are of top quality, sure to last a lifetime, worth $5000 but on sale for $49, etc. Because most of these sellers are shipping out of China when the buyer realizes (if they ever do) that their pearls are really just junk, they do not have any recourse other than trying to ship their pearls back to China for a refund.
If you really are set on purchasing akoya pearls for your wedding, spend an hour or so reading about them here: http://www.pearl-guide.com/forum/
Ask a few questions as well as you start to learn about them. This will save you a lot of heartache and trouble that you don’t need right before your special day.
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