A pearl’s size is more than just its diameter, shape, and physical structure. Though size may seem small, (literally since pearls are measured in millimeters), a pearl’s size conveys significant meaning and social value. Before investing in pearls, it’s important to understand the context for different sizes and realize the underlying value.
There are different standard categories of pearl sizes: 5-6mm, 7-8mm, 9-10mm, and 10mm or greater. Pearls are a timeless statement, yet age, intended occasion, and facial features affect the ideal moment to wear each size. In general, larger pearls are more of a luxurious statement while smaller pearls are more for subtle, everyday wear.
The cost of pearls is not linear; a diameter increase does not equate to a directly proportional increase in price. A pearl twice the size could cost twenty-five times as much. To help you find the perfect size for your needs, I’m going to be walking through the different sizes of pearl earrings and their contextual values.
- The Basics of Pearl Earrings
- Pearl Earring Types
- Pearl Earring Sizes
- Price Range Per Pearl
- Factors to Consider When Choosing a Pearl Earring
- Which Size Pearl Earring Should I Choose?
- Related Guides
- Can Men Wear Pearls (If So, Which Ones)
- 4 of the World’s Most Expensive Pearls (Are They Worth It?)
- Types of Pearls (Natural, Saltwater, and Lab-Made)
The Basics of Pearl Earrings
A pearl’s size is measured by its diameter in millimeters, and likewise, pearl earrings use the same measurement system. Not all pearls are of the same type, and different types of pearls come in different sizes. Each type of pearl has a general size range, which isn’t mutually exclusive.
Two distinct types of pearls could be the same size and two same types of pearls could be different sizes.Freshwater pearls tend to be a bit smaller, ranging from 4-14 mm. Sea pearls tend to be a bit larger and can range from 8-20mm.
A pearl’s size is rounded off by the nearest .5mm. In the industry, pearls are denoted by their .5mm size range. To consumers, they are generally categorized in 1mm ranges or as a singular size.
Pearl Earring Types
Not all pearls are from the same oyster. Pearls come from various bodies of water in different colors and shapes. The main types are Freshwater, Tahitian, Akoya, South Sea, and Golden.
There are also natural pearls and cultured pearls. While they are both from oysters, cultured pearls exist as a byproduct human assistance and are lower cost.
Freshwater pearls have the greatest all around range. They have various diverse sizing and come in a multitude of colors. From dark to light and subtle to statement, they include virtually every color and size.
Tahitian pearls come from the black-lip oyster off the coast of French Polynesian Islands. Coming in iridescent shades of grey, black, and dark green, Tahitian pearls are a conversation starter. They are not for subtle, discrete wear.
Akoya pearls are the highly demanded, timeless, and classy white pearls. They are saltwater pearls off the coast of Japan and are from the Akoya oyster.
South Sea pearls are superior quality. They come from the largest oysters in the world off the Australia coast.
Golden pearls are a subset of South Sea pearls. They are, as the name suggests, golden. They come from the golden-lip variety.
Pearl Earring Sizes
As size increases, the formality and ideal age range increases alongside. Smaller pearls are considered more casual and informal while larger pearls are more of a luxurious statement piece. Large pearls are considered more avant-garde and can be worn as a risk.
These small, dainty pearls are perfect for younger use and versatile everyday wear. They are considered informal but can serve as a light tough to formal wear. 5-6mm pearl earrings are primarily intended for teenagers and younger women.
Freshwater and Akoya pearls fall within this size. Akoya pearls are generally much smaller, meaning you’re more likely to find an Akoya pearl in this range.
This earring size has the same effect as the 5-6mm but appeal to a slightly broader age range. While they are still considered subtle and informal, they could suit a slightly older woman.
Freshwater and Akoya pearls both fall within this size range. This size category falls on the middle end of the spectrum for both Akoya and Freshwater.
When in doubt, 7-8mm earrings are the size to go with. These appeal to every age category and can be dressed up, dressed down, and used for any occasion. These are perfect for delicate daywear and gorgeous nightwear.
Freshwater, South Sea, and Akoya pearls can all be found in this size range. This is on the very small end for South Sea. While this is both middle line for freshwater and Akoya, the signature, timeless look of the Akoya is more desirable and sought after.
This size is for women who are older and more mature. These are for formal business wear and elegant evening attire. They add an aesthetic confidence and timelessness yet are generally too formal for daywear.
All types of pearls can fall within this size range: Tahitian, South Sea, Freshwater, and Akoya. However, this is on the very extreme end for Akoya, and it is quite rare to find an Akoya of this size.
10mm and Above
Past the 10mm threshold, the earrings are a statement. In the past, they targeted a similar, middle-aged group as the 9-10mm but now they are worn by all ages. This size is considered unconventional, a fashion risk, the way someone wears them is their unique aesthetic intention.
Tahitian, South Sea, and Freshwater pearls can go beyond 10mm, but it is not common for Freshwater pearls. 9-10 mm is the middle ground for Tahitian and still on the lower end for South Sea.
Price Range Per Pearl
Pearl pricing can be quite complicated. Both size and type significantly affect the price, yet there is no linear, direct relationship. The price difference between a smaller pearl and a larger pearl is drastic.
Additionally, what is considered small for one pearl type may be considered large for another – this rarity of type also affects price. The rarity and commonality of a size within a particular pearl type directly alters price.
Whether a pearl is natural or cultured, found freely in nature or from a farm, has a significant cost impact. Natural pearls are considered a very rare luxury, so expected price is oriented around cultured pearls.
Pearl color also affects price. More specifically, the presence of overtone and orient of a pearl is higher value. The overtone is an additional layer of translucent color, and the orient is a translucent layer of color right below the surface.
Both the overtone and orient of a pearl make the appearance unique and multi-dimensional, adding financial value.
The material used for the jewelry base of the pearl can also affect price. Especially for Akoya, which are incredibly versatile, the cost of the final product can be largely based on the jewelry itself.
Though there is great variation in pricing based on distinct features, the following is expected price per cultured pearl including type and size. Natural pearls typically go for over $1000 each, regardless of other factors.
For Freshwater pearls, this is incredibly small and considered low financial value. These can go for under $20.
For Akoya pearls, this is considered around average size. Added to their timelessness and superior quality, each pearl can cost around $100 a piece.
7-8mm is average size for a Freshwater pearl, and they typically sell between $30 and $50.
7-8mm is also average size for an Akoya pearl, but the added quality increases the sell range to $150 and $300.
This is on the smaller end of a South Sea pearl, and these typically sell for around $200.
For Freshwater pearls, this is moving towards the larger end of the size spectrum, yet selling around $65, the price isn’t drastically different.
For Akoya pearls, this is very large and rare. This unique size sells for $400+.
For South Sea pearls, this is still on the smaller side of the spectrum, and these still typically sell for around $200.
For Tahitian pearls, this is very small, and these typically sell for around $150.
10mm and above
This is on the larger end of the spectrum for Freshwater pearls and the pricier end, typically selling for $100+.
This is within a common size range for South Sea Pearls. They go for around $400.
Most Tahitian pearls are 10mm plus and generally fall between $100 – $1000. 10mm is at the lower end of the price and size spectrum for a Tahitian pearl.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Pearl Earring
Perhaps, like many, you were unaware of the underlying value, significance, and rarity associated with different pearl types and sizes. The pearl market can be difficult to navigate, and it’s important to understand the market’s backbone. Before you naively purchase a $10,000 pair of pearl earrings, it’s important to weigh your options and know what you are looking for.
More expensive pearls aren’t inherently better. More expensive pearls may not align with your intended use and aesthetic, making them arguably less valuable.
The best pearls for the average trendsetter are Freshwater pearls. Freshwater pearls offer the widest selection of size and color. Freshwater pearls are generally the most affordable, making them an easy way to meld with the times.
For the more advanced trendsetter, a larger pearl – 10 mm or greater – is the way to make a fashion statement. For the larger size, Tahitian pearls are a more cost-effective route, but freshwater pearls are still a viable option.
Age and suggested pearl size are directly correlated. For 5-10mm pearls, this correlation is more tightly bound. Very young women wear 5mm, and older, more mature women wear 7mm – 9mm.
However, as the sizes get larger, 10mm and greater, the pearls become much bolder. While it’s still unlikely that a teenager would be wearing large pearls, the 10mm can appeal to younger adult women who are looking to break convention.
While it’s unlikely that a pearl over the 10mm threshold would appeal to a mature businesswoman, pearls above that size still appeal to an older market.
Generally, more petite women can size down a mm range and portray the same effects of the size above. This can be either advantageous or disadvantageous and should be considered when purchases pearls.
If a more petite woman were to purchase 7-8mm pearls for everyday wear, the pearls may mirror the effects of the 8-9mm, which are intended for nightwear. Though it may seem marginal, petite women may want to consider sizing down.
Smaller pearls are perfect the perfect addition for daytime, casual wear. Medium-sized pearls are for formal, business, and even evening wear. Larger pearls cater to more of a loud, authentic personal style along with night wear.
If your personal style is more quiet and subtle, a smaller pearl could be the perfect touch. If your personal style is more professional, a medium-sized pearl could give you an extra competitive edge. If your personal style is more experimental, a larger pearl can help you stand out.
Generally, the best pearls for a tightly wound budget are Freshwater pearls. While smaller pearls are less expensive, the extra cost for a 7-8mm pearl may be much more cost-effective. Since 5-7mm pearls cater to a much younger audience, the low-cost might be a pure waste.
Frequency of wear
The 7-8mm pearls are the most versatile and timeless. Specifically, the Akoya pearls within this range are the most sought after and universally timeless. 7-8mm Akoya pearls can be worn to any occasion throughout the ages.
If you are looking for the most use, 7-8mm Akoya pearls are the obvious choice.
Which Size Pearl Earring Should I Choose?
When in doubt, you can never go wrong with a pair of 7-8mm pearl earrings. They are by far the most popular and versatile. 7-8mm pearls can appeal to any budget, personal style, facial features, age group, and trend.
Additionally, the lower cost of Freshwater pearls can make them a risk-free way to experiment and try new styles. If you aren’t sure what you are looking for, Freshwater pearls might be the safest price option.
Unlike 7-8 mm pearls, other pearl sizes are not meant to be dressed up or down and worn by all ages to all sorts of events. Other pearl sizes target a narrower subset of people for specified occasions. The additional value from sizing is only truly valuable if it is realized.
Larger pearls are much more appropriate, classy, and elegant for nightwear. They add maturity and elegance for a mature, middle-aged women.
Small to medium pearls are a dainty addition to day wear. They’re cute, light, and beautiful.
Freshwater pearls also offer an assortment of colors, which can cater to a broad range of unique personal styles. Two women of the same age may choose pearls of the same size in different colors to suit their personal aesthetic. While the creamy white is traditionally associated with pearls, darker colors are still highly valued and fulfill the same needs.
While the size in mm is important, the significance can vary based on facial structure. For more petite women, the associations for one size range are the equivalent of 1 mm less than that size range.
Above contextual value, personal size and style are important factors for choosing a pearl size and type.
A pearl’s size, measured in mm, can range from 4 to 20. The most common sizes range across all ages, styles, and intended uses is 5-10mm. However, the 7-8mm is the most versatile and usable across all ages, styles, and occasions.
Strong personal aesthetic, intended use, and age are all important factors to consider when making a pearl earring purchase. While you can never go wrong with a pair of 7-8mm Freshwater or Akoya pearl earrings, hopefully you are now able to make purchases that best suit your needs.
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