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Pearl Engagement Rings: Trend or Modern Classic?

by Adriana Perez-Nakamura
Last updated on July 29, 2022
Pearl engagement ring

Diamonds have been the standard engagement ring gemstone for some time, but right now pearl engagement rings are having their moment. Will this last? Read on to learn more about this intriguing water gem and decide for yourself.

How Do Pearls Form?

A pearl forms inside of a shelled mollusk when something irritating, like a foreign organism, becomes stuck inside of it. In response to the irritant, certain types of mollusks will heal themselves by secreting nacre. Nacre (AKA mother-of-pearl) is a substance made of calcium carbonate and protein that grows in layers over the irritant. Over time, these layers of nacre form a pearl.

Natural Pearls

Natural pearls grow in various shelled mollusk species throughout the world. They can grow in both saltwater and freshwater, as well as in water temperatures ranging from cold to warm. However, most pearls today are cultured pearls because mollusks that produce pearls in the wild are endangered.

Cultured Pearls

Pearl farmers grow cultured pearls in underwater farms in controlled conditions. There are both freshwater cultured pearls and cultured saltwater pearls–but no matter the type, the process to produce them is the same: Pearl farmers start by inserting irritants into mollusks. Once the pearls fully form, the farmers harvest them.

Are Cultured Pearls Real Pearls?

Both Cultured and Natural Pearls Are Real--pearl engagement rings.
Both Cultured and Natural Pearls Are Real Pearls

Yes, cultured pearls are real pearls–they are just not natural pearls. Both freshwater cultured pearls and saltwater cultured pearls form inside of mollusks, the way natural pearls do. The main difference between the two is cultured pearls are made with human supervision.

Jewelry made with natural pearls, like pearl engagement rings, commands a higher price because of the natural pearl’s rarity. But both cultured pearls and natural pearls are essentially the same thing: balls of nacre.

Pearl Qualities

Like any other precious gem, experts rate gem-quality pearls according to specific qualities and standards. These qualities and standards include luster, shape, surface, size, and color. Let’s take a look at each of these a bit more closely.

Luster

In a pearl, luster refers to its brightness or brilliance–this is an important quality because it helps determine a pearl’s value. The more brilliant luster a pearl has, the brighter and cripser its reflection and the more valuable it becomes.

Shape

Most pearls are irregularly shaped (baroque pearls), but when people think of pearls they usually think of a perfectly formed sphere. Perfectly round pearls are rare and very expensive, and become more valuable when they have even luster and color.

Surface

A pearl’s surface refers to how smooth it is, as well as how clean it looks. Any scratches, bumps, ridges, or other obvious irregularities will decrease its value. In fact, if any of these irregularities is bad enough, it can affect the pearl’s durability and decrease its value even more. However, minor surface issues don’t always affect price as long as they are few and easily disguised with a drill-hole.

Size

When it comes to size the larger the pearl the more expensive it will be. Of course, as with other precious gems like diamonds, there are additional qualities to consider that will affect price. But in general, if you want a large center pearl for an engagement ring it will be more expensive.

Color

Pearls come in a vast array of beautiful colors that extend beyond basic white. These colors include white, cream, yellow, orange, pink, and purple. Interestingly, the environment of the mollusk that produces pearls influenes the pearl’s color

For example, freshwater pearls come naturally in the widest variety of colors–except for black. Saltwater pearls still come in a variety of colors, but the only naturally occurring black saltwater pearls come from the waters around Tahiti and other French Polynesian islands

What Is the Typical Cost of Pearl Engagement Rings?

Pearl Engagement Ring with Diamond Accents--pearl engagement rings.
Pearl Engagement Ring With Diamond Accents

There is no hard and fast answer to this question. The cost of a pearl engagement ring will vary depending on factors that include pearl quality (luster, shape, surface, size, color), whether you choose a natural or cultured pearl, and if it is a saltwater or freshwater pearl.

You also have to think about what type of setting your pearl engagement ring will be in, as well as the type of metal. For instance, white gold and yellow gold (depending on the karat) can be more expensive than rose gold. Do you want your ring to feature just a large pearl center stone, or do you want to include glittering diamonds as accents? Any extras you decide to add on will increase the price.

Tips for Saving Money on a Pearl Ring

Like when choosing a diamond for an engagement ring, you have wiggle room to get what is important to you at a price that fits your budget. Cultured pearls are always going to be less expensive (and more readily available) than natural pearls.

You can choose a pearl that has slight blemishes but hide them with a strategically chosen ring setting. If color is important to you but not size, you can purchase a smaller pearl in the color you want.

Want to include diamond accents like a diamond band or halo? Consider lab grown diamonds for your pearl and diamond engagement ring. Lab grown diamonds are 30-40% less expensive than mined diamonds, and they shine just as beautifully.

Drilled vs. Undrilled Pearls

Undrilled pearls are more expensive that drilled pearls because jewelers often use drill-holes to hide blemishes. Therefore, jewelers usually sell lower-quality pearls already drilled and in premade strands. The advantage of an undrilled pearl is you have greater flexibility when you incorporate it into your ring design.

How to Take Care Pearl Engagement Rings

Gently Clean Pearl Jewelry With a Soft Cloth--pearl engagement rings.
Gently Clean Pearl Jewelry With a Soft Cloth

Pearls have a hardness of 2.5-4.5 on the Mohs scale — this makes them incredibly soft. And since a pearl is so soft it is susceptible to damage from everyday wear. It can also dull easily. Therefore, it’s essential that you take special care when both wearing and cleaning your pearl engagement ring, and any genuine pearl jewelry.

Since pearls can dull easily, avoid getting lotions or harsh soaps on them. Even sweat can cause them to become dull over time, so be sure to gently wipe your ring with a soft cloth to remove any substances that may corrode it. You should also keep it away from heat sources and store it in a soft jewelry bag when you aren’t wearing it.

How to Clean Pearl Engagement Rings

The best method for cleaning a pearl engagement ring is to scrub it gently with a soft brush in lukewarm water and mild soap. Do not scrub it hard because harsh scrubbing can cause scratches.

You should also avoid using harsh chemical cleansers on it, and never put it in an ultrasonic cleaner. Never leave it fully submerged in water, especially if the pearl in your ring has a drill-hole because excess moisture will build up in the hole and damage it.

Types of Pearls for Pearl Engagement Rings

Freshwater Pearls

Throughout time and across the world, freshwater pearls have formed out in nature. However, most freshwater pearls today are cultivated–with the majority of them coming from China.

Freshwater pearls come in the largest selection of colors, including white, cream, yellow, orange, pink, and even purple. Interestingly, the only color freshwater pearls don’t naturally come in is black (and if you do come across one, it’s dyed). And because they are mass cultivated they are the most affordable pearl type.

Saltwater Pearls

Even though most people associate saltwater pearls with the image of a perfectly round white pearl, they are far more interesting than that. From the cool waters around Japan and China to the warmer tropical waters of Tahiti, saltwater pearls come in some extremely rare and eye catching colors and qualities that freshwater pearls don’t.

Akoya Pearls

Known for their mirror like shine, genuine Akoya pearls come from the cooler waters of China and Japan. They are smaller saltwater pearls known for their roundness, high shine, and sharp reflective qualities. As for size, they range from 2-11 mm, with an average pearl size falling somewhere between 6-8 mm. A single cultured Akoya pearl can cost up to $300 depending on its size. Smaller Akoya pearls can sell for as little as $30 per pearl.

Akoya pearls come in colors including white, cream, pink, and yellow and overtones of pink, silver, or green. Jewelers commonly use them to make pearl necklaces.

South Sea Pearls

Farmers cultivate South Sea pearls from the warmer waters off the northwest coast of Australia, as well as the Philippines. They range in size from 8-20 mm, with the average pearl size being 12 mm. South Seas pearls are some of the priciest and biggest pearl types, and a single cultivated pearl can cost up to $650 depending on size and quality.

Colors of South Sea pearls include white, cream, silver, yellow, orangey yellow, and blue. There are even golden South Sea pearls which are incredibly valuable.

Tahitian Pearls

Also known as black pearls, Tahitian pearls come from the coast of Tahiti and other French Polynesian islands. They are referred to as “black pearls” because Tahitian pearls are the only pearls that occur naturally in the color black; however, they also come in other colors. They range in size from 9-14 mm, but the average pearl size is 9.5 mm and a single cultivated pearl can cost up to $450 each.

Tahitian pearls come in a range of darker colors that include black, gray, blue, brown, purple, and green. Interestingly, the most valuable Tahitian pearls are “peacock” pearls. These pearls have dark blue-gray and even green colors with overtones in purple and rose.

The Meaning of Pearl Engagement Rings

Pearls are known as the ”stone of sincerity.” They symbolize faith, innocence, loyalty, harmony, and purity. In some cultures, people associate them with the moon and its power–this makes sense considering the physical resemblance between pearls and the moon, along with the association of the moon with water.

Celebrity Pearl Rings

Pearls tend to be considered old-fashioned and formal. Plus, you likely think of your grandmother whenever a strand of pearls comes to mind. But time is gradually changing this outdated notion, as demonstrated by the growing number of younger celebrities now opting for rings with eye catching pearl accents as well as pearl center stone rings.

Ariana Grande’s Pearl and Diamond Engagement Ring

When Ariana Grande’s husband Dalton Gomez proposed, he presented her with a beautiful pearl and diamond ring with a simple gold band. This pearl engagement ring has sentiment attached to it that goes beyond just a trend for Grande. The white pearl on her ring is said to be a family treasure from her grandparents.

The story behind the ring is that Grande’s grandfather owned a tie pin with a white pearl on it, which her grandmother had made into a ring for Grande. Her grandmother did this after she dreamed that her late husband came to her and told her the pearl would protect Grande. There is no confirmation as to whether the pearl in her engagement ring is the pearl from her grandparents; however, this does not make is any less meaningful.

Gomez managed to creatively blend elements of family tradition with modern styles by setting the oval diamond at an angle. This was undoubtedly a major moment for Grande, and one that was more meaningful with the addition of the sentimental pearl.

Emma Stone’s Vintage Inspired Pearl Ring With Diamond Accents

Emma Stone’s pearl and diamond engagement ring was designed by Tokyo-based master jeweler Yoshinobu Kataoka. It is a vintage inspired design that features an untreated 8 mm Akoya pearl, and is set in Kataoka’s signature snowflake motif. Surrounding the pearl is 0.37 carats of glittering diamonds, and everything is set on an 18-karat gold band.

Style Choices for Pearl Engagement Rings

From a classic look to something modern that incorporates popular gemstones, inspiration for pearl ring styles is endless. Pearl rings can be placed in many different settings and paired with almost any type of metal band, including rose gold, yellow gold, white gold, or even sterling silver.

The Toi et Moi Ring — Pearl and Diamond

If you prefer ring ideas that are a bit more unconventional, take some inspiration from Ariana Grande and consider pairing a lustrous pearl with a round diamond for a Toi et Moi ring. This would also be a good design if you choose a pearl with less brilliant luster; in this case, the round diamond can highlight the pearl’s other qualities. If your pearl has green overtones, you can even pair it with an emerald (or another green gemstone) for a monotone-inspired look.

Bezel Set Pearl Engagement Rings

Bezel set round diamonds make popular engagement rings, so why not choose a bezel set for your pearl ring? This would be an outstanding way to showcase your pearl and possibly disguise some imperfections.

Open Rings

Open rings are also nicely suited for pearl engagement rings. Use the open ring design to showcase a single cultured freshwater pearl in a simple gold band, or one or two moody black Tahitian Pearls with green overtones in a rose gold band. Simple ring ideas like these, without diamonds or other enhancements, ensure the pearls are the focal points of your engagement ring.

Pearl and Diamond Center Stones With Halos

If you prefer your jewelry to have extra sparkle, consider a traditional diamond center stone set in a yellow gold ring surrounded by pearl accents. Another nice idea is a diamond halo reflecting the mirror like shine of an Akoya pearl of the highest luster with blue body colors. This ring would dazzle against a white gold band.

Pearl Jewelry: A Modern Classic

Regardless of whether you prefer a saltwater or freshwater pearl ring, or even a natural over a cultured pearl, your pearl engagement ring will be the center of attention wherever you go. Their rare beauty and versatility make them a wonderful option for any jewelry lover, especially for one who appreciates uniqueness. And if current styles and trends tell us anything it’s that pearl jewelry, specifically pearl engagement rings, are here to stay.