Here's a chart that compares common pearl sizes to a dime.
Some quick guidance:
5mm or less: Generally recommended for young girls and/or very petite ladies.
6mm Pearls: A bit smaller than 'usual' - a good option for ladies 5'3" or under and/or with a particularly slender neck.
7mm - 8mm Pearls: The 'standard' size. Most pearl strands you've likely seen are about 7-8mm.
9mm - 10mm Pearls: Luxury size. Larger than the 'usual' pearl strand, but subtly so. (It is unusual to find Akoya Pearls larger than this).
11mm - 12mm Pearls: Noticeably larger than the norm. Typically only found in Freshwater, South Sea or Tahitian Pearls.
13mm - 16mm Pearls: A true 'statement' heirloom piece of jewelry. Only found in Freshwater, South Sea or Tahitian Pearls.
Having said that... if you're like us, it can be hard to 'visualize' what a 4mm or 8mm or any "mm" pearl size really looks like. And posting an image online isn't so good since they vary in size based on your monitor/resolution.
So here we're going to list some common pearl sizes compared to 'real world' objects that may be easier for you to picture:
4mm pearls are about the same diameter as an unpopped popcorn kernel.
5mm pearls are about the same diameter as a #2 pencil's eraser.
6mm pearls are about the same diameter as a #2 pencil's shaft (a #2 pencil's shaft is 1/4" which is 6.3mm).
7mm pearls are about the same diameter as an average dress-shirt button.
8mm pearls are about the same diameter as a green pea (not the 'baby' peas, the regular ones your mom forced you to eat...).
9mm pearls are about the same diameter as an AAA battery.
10mm pearls are about the same diameter as an M&M Candy (the longer side).
Akoya pearls are rarely available over 10mm in size. Over 10mm pearls are typically Freshwater, Tahitian or South Sea.
12mm is just a hair under 1/2 inch, so 12mm pearls are about the same diameter as the thickness of a standard household sponge.
14mm pearls are about the same diameter as an AA battery.
16mm pearls are about the same diameter as the width of standard-size dice (or think of it as if you took a die and cut off the corners to make it round).
Note: While pearls above 10-11mm are certainly precious, Pearls larger than 16mm are extremely unusual and rare.
18mm pearls are about the same diameter as a dime.
20mm pearls are about half-way between a penny and nickel (19mm and 21mm respectively).
24mm pearls are about the same diameter as a quarter.
From short choker pearls to pearls that wrap around and around and around....
Pearl necklaces come in five basic lengths: Choker, Princess, Matinee, Opera and Rope. You may have heard of some of the names but probably have no idea how long each is and, more importantly, how it sits on the neck and below.
Choker - 16 in
The pearl choker is the shortest length circling the neck. While a pearl choker can be worn with almost any neckline and looks great with every style, from casual to formal, make sure it doesn't swallow the neck. Pearl chokers draw attention to the neck but if you have a particularly short or long neck, the attention should be drawn away from the neck to the shoulder line or below. As such, stay away from chokers. For everyone else, a choker is great classic, suitable for every occasion.
Princess - 18 in
A princess strand falls slightly below the neckline and compliments every neck-style from high to low. It's great for office-wear as its length sits just above a blouse neckline and won't be hidden like longer lengths.
Matinee - 24 in
The Matinee strand is most popular for formal occasions and is the perfect length for any little black dress event. It's also the best length for those who are well endowed in the chest region as it highlights the neck and shoulders finishing just above the cleavage.
Opera - 32 in
Falling just below the bustline, the Opera strand is great for eveningwear and compliments every body shape. For less formal occasions, it can be doubled over and worn as a twin choker ? a true day into night piece.
Rope - 46 in
If it's versatility you're after, then a pearl rope is the style for you. By itself the strand generally falls somewhere around the waistline and is perfect for those that like to stand out from the crowd. Its length means you can play with styles from triple, or quadruple rows of a choker, to doubling it as Princess and Opera style together. Or try simply knotting it for a chic look that's perfect with everything from jeans and a tee shirt to an elegant evening gown.
Pearls.com is committed to selling only accurately-graded, true gem-quality pearls. Here's what that means:
While many factors affect pearl quality, two of the most vital are luster and surface quality. Roundness is also a key factor.
Pearls of AAA quality have mirror-like luster with metallic sheen. They exhibit a 'depth' to their luster (often called 'orient') that makes them seem as if you are looking deep into the pearl.
Pearls of AA quality have very good luster with a near-metallic/mirror-like effect. Though slightly less reflective and deep than AAA, they are still stunningly beautiful and shiny
Pearls of A quality have good luster without variation or 'chalky' areas. They are highly reflective and exhibit "depth."
Pearls below A quality level will have "milky" or "chalky" area and uneven luster.
AAA quality pearls have virtually no surface blemishes and exhibit a very thick, even coat of nacre. Any blemishes that do exist will be tiny and barely noticeable, if noticeable at all, to the untrained eye.
AA quality pearls have very slight surface blemishes with a very thick, even coat of nacre. Very small dimples or spots that are difficult to notice without very close examination
A quality pearls have some surface blemishes, but most of the surface is clean and exhibits thick, even nacre. The blemishes that exist will not create any chips or breaks in the surface, nor be noticeable at conversation-distance.
Pearls below A quality have blemishes that are noticeable at any distance. ANY break in the "nacre" surface is sub-A quality no matter how nice the remaining surface may be.
AAA quality pearls will be perfectly round
AA quality pearls may be ever-so-slightly off-round, but difficult to detect to the untrained eye.
A quality pearls may be near-round to the trained eye or upon up-close examination, but will typically appear totally round from conversation-distance
Pearls below A quality are off-round in shape, at a level to be noticeable at 'handshake" distance.
Note that for pearls presented as button, baroque, fireball, or other 'fancy' shape, roundness is not part of the quality grading: In that case the quality rating would refer to the luster and surface of the pearl, not the roundness.
PLEASE NOTE: Pearls.com does consider pearls below our "A" quality rating to be jewelry-grade pearls, and we do not sell them.
Just need a quick understanding of different pearl types? Here you go:
Akoya - Lustrously Delicate
Cultured Pearls farmed in Japanese and Chinese ocean water.
Created by a type of oyster called Pinctada fucata martensii: The "Akoya Pearl" Oyster
Because this type of oyster is not especially large, typically found in sizes of 2-8mm with 8-10mm being considered very large for Akoya pearls.
Known for their white to cream coloration. Some cultures, especially Japan, value a very slight pink tinge to the pearl.
Valued for their mirror-like luster and depth (orient).
Created by a type of oyster called Pinctada margaritifera: the "black-lip oyster".
These oysters are larger and can produce pearls as large as 16mm, though 8-10mm is more common
Colloquially called "black pearls" they range from light gray to very dark gray.
They exhibit greens, blues and purples, with the most valued examples showing an "oil slick" type spectrum of colors. Tahitian pearls showing a variety of all these hues with that 'oil slick' effect are often called "peacock" color and are among the most prized.
Cultured Pearls farmed largely in Australian ocean waters, but some in other south seas locations such as the Philippines and Fiji.
Created by a type of oyster called Pinctada maxima: the "gold-lip oyster".
These oysters produce the largest pearls with examples over 20mm being known. More typical is 10-12mm
They are often white, but also often come in a golden-yellow color most often called "golden pearls". Other colors such as pink are found, but are rarer. Australian Farms tend to produce White Pearls, While Golden Pearls most often come from more easterly locations such as the Philippines.
Cultured mostly in Chinese freshwater rivers and lakes. Some are cultured in Japan and other locations as well.
Generally created by freshwater mussels.
Freshwater pearls were cultured in Japan starting in the early 1900's, but production was limited, peaking at 6 tons in 1971, before pollution wiped out most Japanese production. Large-scale freshwater pearl farming started in the 1970's and 80's with current production levels over 1,500 tons annually.
Freshwater pearl culturing is advancing rapidly. Pearls produced early on were mostly rice-grain shaped. Later a "potato" oval shape was produced, and more recently near-round and round pearls are being produced.
Freshwater pearls come in a broad variety of colors. Many are bleached to produce white coloration, or dyed to mimic the gray or golden hues of other pearls. As pearls are porous, the dyes are absorbed deep into the pearl and are relatively permanent. Dying of pearls has become widely accepted - when properly disclosed.
Freshwater pearls have been increasing in size as cultivation techniques improve. Today, they rival Tahitian and South-Sea pearls in size and examples of 12mm and larger are beginning to appear.
Freshwater pearls, while beautiful, typically do not achieve quite the same luster or roundness as saltwater pearls, and prices are thus more affordable. But as quality increases, prices have been rising too.
Pearls are an organic gem and they require specific care that will protect them for a very long time. They can be harmed by contact with many chemicals found in household cleaners, perfumes, cosmetics and hair care products of all kinds.
Never use toothbrushes, scouring pads or any type of abrasive material to clean your Pearls. Never use any "magic eraser" or other commercial cleaning pad, even those 'safe for non-stick' or otherwise presented as "gentle".
Never clean your pearls with anything containing chlorine bleach, vinegar or ammonia (including Windex). All will harm pearls. Avoid anything other that water and soap (not detergent).
Never expose your Pearls to dish or laundry detergents, bleaches, powdered cleansers, or baking soda.
Never use any type of ultrasonic cleaner.
Never steam clean your Pearls.
Never use tarnish remover or any type of jewelry cleaner advertised on TV as a miracle cleaner.
Never store your pearls in any type of plastic bag. Plastic can emit a chemical that will cause the surface of the Pearl to deteriorate.
Never leave your pearls around a direct source of heat such as a fireplace mantle, on top of a television set, or stove.
Never store your Pearls in a very dry room or in a safe deposit box for a long time. Your Pearls need a little moisture like your skin so that they will not dry out!
Always remember that your Pearls should be the LAST THING YOU PUT ON when dressing and the FIRST THING YOU TAKE OFF when you get home.
Always use only jewelry cleaners that are labeled as safe for Pearls.
Always store your Pearls wrapped in a soft cloth or pouch and protected from all abrasive objects.
Always wipe your Pearls with a soft cloth moistened with water.
If spills or drips get on your pearls ("oops" happens...), give them a good soak in lukewarm water with gentle natural soap (not detergent). Rinse well and allow to dry wrapped in a cotton cloth, then wear them to return some oils from your skin to the pearls. Remember, water doesn't hurt pearls, they grew up in it!
Always remove your Pearls if you reapply hair spray, or put on perfume with a sprayer: both can damage Pearls.
Always remove Pearls before exercising or otherwise getting sweaty. (It's not the water or the salt, but the pH of sweat is not good for them.)
Always be aware of the type of fabrics you wear. Fabrics like Shetland wool can damage Pearls
Always remember that you are wearing a gift from the sea and the better you take care of them the longer they will maintain their warm glowing luster.
And last but not least: WEAR YOUR PEARLS. They don't like being stored away and will improve in luster and glow when worn regularly!