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Choosing Pearl Necklaces

The pearl necklace is the timeless and classic way to wear pearls, and naturally, you can wear whatever style of pearl necklace you like. However there are certain accepted traditions when it comes to the size of pearls and pearl necklace lengths.

So how do you go about choosing the perfect pearl necklace?

Pearl necklace lengths

Pearl necklaces vary in length from tight fitting collars to low hanging ropes, so which is right for you, your outfit and the occasion? Here is our quick guide to choosing pearl necklace lengths:

  • Collar – around 12 inches (30cm) long. Several strands of pearls that sit high and tight to the neck. An unusual style with limited range.
  • Choker – around 14 -16 inches (35 – 40cm) long. Sits at the base of the neck and works with most collar styles. A popular style with younger women.
  • Princess – around 16 -20 inches (40 – 50cm). This is the classic pearl necklace length and the most versatile, working well with most necklines.
  • Matinee – 20 -26 inches (50 – 66cm). Falling a little lower than the princess, the matinee works well with polo-neck sweaters and dresses for semi-formal occasions.
  • Opera – 28-36 inches (70 – 90 cm). As the name suggests, the opera is traditionally worn for more formal occasions, falling just below the bust. An opera length may be worn as a double princess adding versatility and value.
  • Rope – over 36 inches (90cm+). Popular with the flappers of the roaring 20s, the rope can be doubled or even trebled for extra versatility. Some even have multiple clasps to break them down.

Pearl necklace sizes

Choosing the right size of pearl to match your age, physique and stature is very important. Young girls do not suit large pearls in the same way that mature women do not suit very small pearls. Here is our quick guide to choosing pearl sizes:

  • 6.0mm or less – these are the perfect starter pearls for young girls, teenagers and into the early 20s. They are ideal for special birthdays and graduation gifts.
  • 6.5 – 8.0mm – these are the most popular pearl sizes, and also some of the most affordable. They are worn by women from their mid 20s to mid 40s and are ideal for birthdays, Christmas, valentines and anniversaries.
  • 8.0 – 9.0mm – as size increases, pearls become more expensive and start to become more of a status symbol.These are perfect for women over 30 for landmark birthdays and anniversaries, and are ideal for daily wear for high flying career women.
  • 9.0mm + - the largest size of cultured pearl available (apart from South seas and Tahitian pearls), and a real sign of power and wealth. Pearls of this size have been favoured by a string of successful women, from Jackie Kennedy to Barbara Bush, as well as pearlaholics worldwide.

For more information on how to measure pearls, see our guide to grading and valuing pearls.

Uniform or Graduated Necklace

Pearl necklaces can be created as either uniform, in which all pearls are approximately the same size, or graduated, in which the pearls start small at the ends and get larger towards the middle of the necklace.

Uniform pearl necklaces will often be described as a range within which the pearls fall, such as 7.0 – 7.5mm. The naked eye can detect differences as small as 0.5mm, so the more closely matched the string, the more attractive, and therefore expensive, it will be.

Pearl jewellery clasps

There are several different clasps used to secure pearl necklaces. These include:

  • Lobster Style – a closed hook with a spring loaded bar to open and close
  • Fish hook – a two part clasp comprising the clasp 'body' and a 'V' shaped 'fish' hook which is usually hooked around a vertical safety bar, then compressed slightly and inserted into the body to engage.  It is released by compressing the hook and gently pulling out.
  • Ball – ball clasps are a variation on the fish hook and are popular on pearl necklaces as they maintain the visual continuity of the string
  • Barrel – barrel clasps can comprise of two cylindrical parts whereby one slides into the other or a wide 'fish hook' variation where the fish hook is engaged into the barrel.
  • Ring and bar – ring and bar clasps comprise a ring and a bar which is pushed through the ring at an angle and it engages by gravity. Also known as Toggle Clasp.