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Tips For Buying Pearl Jewellery Online

The tips in this useful resource will help you make more informed decisions about buying pearl jewellery online.

As always, there are exceptions to the rules, and life is not perfect... but when you are paying good money…you expect something good in return!

You get what you pay for

Buyer beware all those 'unbelievable offers', and 'wholesale priced' offers of top quality 'AAA' grade pearls for less than your weekly shopping!

Can you really buy a top-of-the-range BMW for the price of a basic Fiat Panda? Of course not!

Many websites, usually foreign-based, display inflated 'Recommended or Typical Retail Prices' which are then discounted by 75% or 80% to make the price you pay seem like a bargain. If only BMW & Porsche discounted their cars by 80%!!

Beware dodgy valuation certificates

Worse still is when the retailer gives you a 'valuation certificate' for an inflated price! If they are willing to do this, what else are they willing to do?

The devil is in the detail!

  • Look for detailed, accurate and comprehensive product specifications so you can compare and make an informed choice. Be suspicious of vital missing information.
  • Remember - the real value lies in the quality & weight of the pearls, and any precious metals or precious stones included.

Know your pearls!

Tips:

Characteristic:

Pearl Shape

  • Is the shape properly described? Look for specific terms such as 'round', 'near round', 'drop', 'baroque' etc. rather than vague descriptions such as 'beautiful' or 'excellent shape'.
  • Shape greatly affects price. Round pearls can be double price of near-round and 5 - 10 times the price of baroque pearls.
  • Beware play on words such as 'Roundish' or 'round shape' which only indicate 'of a round shape'. A 'Roundish' pearl can cost only 20-40% of the price of real round pearls.
  • Prices for baroque or non-symmetrical pearls should be much lower than round and symmetrical pearls.
  • Button pearls can look round in photo's and without description, you may receive inexpensive button earrings when you wanted 'round' pearls.

Pearl Colour

  • Is the pearl colour stated? Colour affects price only marginally.

Pearl Size

  • Is the pearl size properly stated? Freshwater & Akoya Pearls are usually stated in ½ mm bands such as 7-7.5mm/7.5-8mm & Tahitian/South Sea pearls as 1mm sizes such as 9-10mm/10-11mm.
  • Using full size description like 7-8mm can make the pearls sound bigger. Ensure a balance of pearls in both 7-7.5mm and 7.5-8mm ranges as 7-7.5mm pearls can be 20-40% cheaper.
  • Where size is not correctly stated, the pearls could be smaller than depicted.
  • The size of pearls greatly impacts on price.
  • Large pearl sizes 8mm/9mm etc. of baroque or ringed pearls sounds impressive but they cost less than symmetrical pearls of 6mm/7mm.

Pearl Type/Origin

  • The type/origin greatly affects price.
  • Freshwater, Akoya, Tahaitian & South Sea pearls are typically priced in that order. (Low to high).
  • Japanese Akoya pearls cost more than Chinese Akoya's.
  • Origins as 'Japan' or 'China & Japan' can make pearls appear more expensive. (Many pearls from China are sold to Japan for re-export as Japanese Akoya Pearls). Ensure you know where they are farmed!

Pearl Lustre

  • Affects the price greatly.
  • Check for written description of the pearl lustre.
  • A key pearl quality. Basically - how shiny the pearls are. Generally, the sharper the reflection, the higher the lustre.
  • Lustre is the most difficult to quantify without pearls in front of you and very few pearl photos do justice or injustice.

Pearl Surface

  • Check for written description of the pearl surface.
  • Most pearls like most people are born with a few blemishes - a spot here and there. The less spots and blemishes, the more valuable the pearl.
  • Even 'Best Quality' pearls can have very minor blemishes. It is a brave person to describe pearls as 'blemish-free'.
  • Necklace pearls usually have much more 'characteristic' marks than pendant or earring pearls.
  • Chips, cracks & major dimples etc. devalue pearls greatly.
  • Natural creases, ridges and 'shape' markings are mostly normal in baroque, ringed and non-symmetrical type pearls.
  • The difference between virtually blemish-free pearls versus a pearl with up to 4% minor surface marks can make a big price difference. A Tahitian pearl with up to 4% minor surface blemishes can be described AAA (with other quality factors met also), but the same pearl with one or two very minor spots covering no more than 1% of surface could be 50 - 100% more expensive.

Pearl Grading

  • There is no international grading for pearls unlike diamonds. Tahiti (Black Tahitian Pearls) is the only country with a government controlled grading system.
  • With no legal grading system, it is easy to overstate qualities.
  • Beware of conflicting grading charts tailored to everyone's own supply of pearls!
  • Browse pearls on the High Street to get a feeling for their qualities.
  • A 'usual' grading system utilises A - AAA grades. Grading terms such as AAA+, AAAA, gem quality etc. are sometimes used to 'over describe' qualities.
  • Grading in most cases is what is assigned to the pearls by the supplier and can vary greatly.
  • You may find that pearl photos are stock images, over enhanced, re-touched or manicured photos that make pearls look perfect. Even the same photograph is used for multiple products; that really does not give a realistic impression of the product.

Pearl Overtone

  • Not always stated as can be seen in photos.
  • Useful for black pearls due to wide overtone range.

Knotting

  • Desirable to have knots between each pearl.
  • Usual that 'fashion' and lower value necklaces feature knots at regular intervals.

Metal Type

  • Are the 'metal' parts clearly described? Usually 925 silver, silver/gold plated or 9/10/14/18K solid Gold. Or just base metal?
  • Gold as of 2011 costs 40/50 times more than silver on a 'per ounce raw material' basis. As finished goods, the price differential is less due to labour/overhead costs but is still substantial.
  • A 1g 925 silver clasp can sell retail for £10-£20, in 9K Gold around £70 and double at £140 for 18K Gold.
  • Prices for identical pearls with silver fittings should be a lot less than gold fittings.
  • 'Rhodium plated' fittings as opposed to 'rhodium plated 925 silver' indicates the metal underneath is probably just base metal and a lot less expensive than 925 (sterling) silver. Same applies to Gold Plating.
  • Due to the high price of gold, expensive pearls are now often priced with silver clasps or fittings to keep the price low. That can shave £50 - £150 off the price of a comparable pearl necklace with a good gold quality clasp. That's why it is important to compare 'like for like'.

Setting Weight

  • Usually in more expensive items, is the gold/silver weight stated?
  • The metal weight can be a substantial amount of the value.

Metal Hallmark

  • Precious metals are usually 'stamped' by the producer with '925' for sterling silver or Carat 'K' e.g. 9K/14K or % mark e.g. '585' = 58.5% for gold etc.
  • In UK, it is a legal requirement that precious metals for sale are 'Hallmarked' if reach certain weights. (Any single article/piece of gold 1g & above - 7.78g for silver)
  • Hallmarking can only be done at one of 4 official 'Assay' Halls.
  • An assay hallmark contains minimum 3 small stamps which identify the Assay Office, Sponsor (retailer) and the quality/fineness - 925, 585 etc.
  • To describe just '375' or '585' as a 'hallmark' might be misleading.

Fittings Type

  • Are fittings described such as studs, leverbacks etc. for earrings?
  • Are the fittings appropriate to the size/price/quality of the item?? E.g. size/weight of studs, chains, larger earrings. Just like a car, the more you spend, the more you expect.
  • Pearl earrings - round pearls on gold studs are expensive. You may find that some studs are offered with only silver studs or with only button pearls, so make sure you know what you are getting.

Clasps

  • Is the metal content of the clasp described ?
  • Weight is more important for larger and more expensive gold clasps.
  • Watch out for photos with 'gold' looking clasps but the price displayed is for a silver clasp. (Often an option to pay extra to get gold).
  • A 1.0g clasp is going to cost double a 0.5g clasp. Therefore smaller, lighter clasps, apart from being more fragile are not always suitable for heavier items.
  • The weight and quality of a clasp should match with the weight and quality of the pearls.
  • If you are buying a £300 or £500 necklace, you would normally want an 'appropriate clasp' rather than the cheapest , smallest, lightest clasp available.

Pendant Chains

  • Is any chain described such as metal type, length, style etc?
  • If a pendant photo shows a chain, is it clear whether it is included or not? (Chains are sometimes not included even when shown in photos).
  • Sometimes a 'gold' pendant might be priced with a 'silver' chain to reduce price although upgrade options exist.
  • Gold pendant chains typically cost £50 - 150 depending on quality.

Precious Stones

  • If present, are they fully detailed?
  • Most precious stones are graded on size, cut, colour, clarity, (Clarity with colour being particularly important for coloured stones).

Stone Grading

  • Ensure the 4 international quality standards of diamonds are given - (The 4 C's)
    • Carat = Weight/size e.g. 0.01CT (very small), 0.03ct, 0.10ct etc.
    • Colour = K, J, H, G etc.
    • Clarity= PI, SI, VS etc.
    • Cut = Brilliant, Baguette, Pear etc.

Length

  • Often useful to know dimensions on larger items.
  • Can also give some price/value indication.

A few other pointers

  • Is VAT & postage included?
  • Is everything shown in photos included in the price or clearly stated otherwise?
  • Ensure what is described in text does not conflict with 'technical info chart'?

Overseas pearl shopping websites

The internet and air travel have made the world a lot smaller, and global shopping websites bring a great deal of choice. However, buying from other countries does raise other questions.

Many pearl websites on search engines such as Google or Yahoo even with .co.uk suffixes are often based in the USA or Asia, and this is where they ship customer orders from. Some even give a UK rented address or telephone number, to give the appearance of a fully UK-based retailer.

The main considerations are:

Import duty & VAT

  • Can add 20-30% to the cost.
  • You pay Royal Mail/Courier prior to delivery at your UK address or the foreign website adds to your order at checkout.
  • Customs are well aware of foreign websites declaring lower values on customs declarations to reduce/avoid these taxes.
  • In case of returns, claiming taxes back is a lot of paperwork...

Postal/shipping costs

  • Often charged on top of product costs due to high international shipping costs.
  • Usually not refunded if you make a return.
  • Return shipping & insurance costs can be expensive.

Some overseas websites

  • Are ultra generous with returns periods such as 60 or 90 days.
  • Sometimes masks the fact there is no decent 6/12 month 'warranty or guarantee' period.

UK Consumer protection

  • Is renowned amongst the world's best.
  • Purchasing outside the EU offers little redress or legal basis if things go pear-shaped!

Repairs & other Issues:

  • With expensive international shipping rates and lack warranty, can be time consuming and costly.

Hallmarking precious metals:

  • Almost certain that any gold or silver content has not been officially hallmarked by a UK Assay Office (applys to minimum weights).

 

Our advice is to support the UK jewellery industry! But of course, we are biased in that respect!

Some basic internet shopping tips

  • A customer friendly Returns Policy exceeding the legal minimum of 7 working days.
  • A written Privacy Policy and registration under the Data Protection Act 1998.
  • Membership to a government backed accreditation organization and other types of regulated/professional associations.
  • Contact details - Trusted address, landline telephone number as well as a business e-mail address, rather than Hotmail/Yahoo/Gmail etc.
  • A certificate of authenticity for the goods.
  • A guarantee or warranty for workmanship of the goods
  • Clear display of the payment methods accepted.
  • Compliance with the UK government's Distance Selling Regulations.
  • Postage costs (if any) and VAT inclusive prices should be clearly displayed.