Pearl Buying Guide, Updated 6th edition

Book Review by Eric J. Hoffman


   Renée Newman, International Jewelry Publications, 2017. 152 + (8) pp, 364 color photographs, softcover, 9 x 6 inches, $19.95


   Consider the pearl. So simple, and yet so complicated. The oldest known gem, the pearl comes to us directly from nature with no need for shaping, faceting, or polishing.

   Ms. Newman’s updated edition (first published 25 years ago) brings clarity and wit to a challenging subject. As a “buying guide” of course this book focuses on what you need to know to safely buy pearls (or maybe just to admire them). The important price factors are treated in detail, with an entire chapter for each. These include luster and nacre thickness (nacre is the iridescent outer pearly coating), color, surface quality, and size and shape. The numerous types of pearls are covered in detail, including how they form and the many different oysters (and a few other mollusks) they come from.

   The difference between cultured and natural pearls is carefully explained (not that you can expect to encounter many of the latter: a 21-inch strand of natural pearls sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for close to $3 million). Freshwater pearls, South Sea pearls, and black pearls each receive their own chapter. The critical subject of pearl color is well treated, including the important effects of lighting. Throughout the book numerous color photos illustrate every point.

   Of course any gem as valuable as pearls will invite imitations. There’s an entire chapter on how to detect them, armed with nothing more than your loupe. Another chapter shows versatile ways to wear pearls, and you’re almost certain to pick up some new ideas. There’s even a chapter on clasps. And since pearls are more delicate than most gems there are helpful hints on caring for them.

   This reviewer’s interest in pearls was sparked by the chance find, at a Chinese restaurant, of a small pearl in my Oyster and Ginger Soup. I soon realized how complex the subject of pearls can be. But Ms. Newman’s book takes away much of the mystery. If you plan to venture forth into the pearl marketplace your first purchase should be this book.


Copyright © 2017 by Eric J. Hoffman (Home Page)

Originally published in ASJRA Newsletter, April 2017