Pearls are created when a small foreign object gets lodged in the body of an oyster or molluscs, causing the animal to produce a soft coating of calcium carbonate (nacre) around the object. Many of the wild pearl-producing oyster beds in the world have disappeared due to overfishing, oil drilling and pollution. Today's pearls are cultured, meaning technicians introduce the object into the oyster or mollusc to produce the pearl. Whether cultured or natural, real pearls have not only external shine but an internal shine as well. Imitation or semi-cultured pearls only shine from the outside. Pearls are used in a wide variety of jewellery including necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets.
First find out what kind of pearls you have. Pearls come in numerous types including freshwater and Tahitian. Freshwater pearls are from the freshwater lakes and rivers of China and can have a pink or rose tint, while Tahitian pearls are large, black or greenish-grey.
Look at the surface texture of the pearl. Natural pearls can have abrasive surfaces; small abrasions do not seriously lesson pearl value. Many pearl jewellery sites such as Shecy Pearls also offer tutorials on how to tell the difference between real and fake pearls.
Further research the quality of the piece's pearls by taking it to an appraiser. The appraiser will determine pearl quality including lustre or pearl shininess and size. Higher lustre equals greater value. The depth of the pearl's external layer, or nacre, is another factor, as pearls with larger nacre means less chipping and greater lustre. Larger pearls mean greater value as well.
Have pearl jewellery appraised by more than one jeweller to get a better idea of the pearl's worth. There are also many online resources for determining jewellery value such as Antique Jewellery Investor, listed in the Resource section.
Although size is a determining factor in value for some dealers, lustre is more significant. Fake pearls feel smooth along the teeth while real pearls feel abrasive. More obvious abrasions or chips will reduce pearl value, however holes drilled in pearls to be strung on necklaces and pearls mounted on rings, earrings and bracelets can hide most imperfections.
Do the proper research and get your pearls appraised by more than one dealer to avoid selling your pearls for less than they are worth.