In ancient times golden pearls embodied the idea of power and prosperity. “Today, they say elegance, wisdom, compassion, intelligence, a woman who knows how to handle poorly behaving “men”,” said Betty Sue King, Pearl Goddess.
As travelers glide through Yangon’s jewellery stores there’s that question, am I paying a fair price?
Establishing the value of a pearl seems anything but scientific but there are some basic rules that distinguish high-end from quality and then the others.
While white pearls are revered throughout the world, Golden Pearls are less well known.
In 2019 Myanmar exported 901,233 pearls, most of which were natural golden pearls, produced by the Golden Lipped Pinctada.
These Oysters thrive only in the Southern Seas of Indonesia, the Philippines and clean waters of the Mergui Archipelago in southern Myanmar.
“What makes Myanmar’s golden pearls stand out, in one word, is quality,” said Michael Hajjar, Belpearl. “Our pearls from Myanmar have the finest mirror surface, are larger and produce the deepest golden color.”
The story of valuing pearls begins on the farms. At Belpearl’s Shwe Kyun (Golden Island) 3% of production is “Trash”; between 3-8% are low quality and shipped to India for ordainment production.
The remaining 92% of annual pearl production, 80,000, are considered as “export quality”.
Those pearls will be shipped to auction houses, and divided into ‘Commercial’, ‘Mid-Jewellery’ Grades and around 40% will be ‘High-Quality Jewellery’.
Auction days are big business with pearls sold in lots up to 10,000. Here wholesale and jewellery buyer’s sort through trays that are divided by color, size, lustre and weight and then bidding begins.
Grading Pearls By Categories
Weight Of Pearls:
The weight of a pearl is measured in Momme’s. One Momme being around 3.75grams.
Myanmar Atlantic, one of Myanmar’s largest farms on Thayawthatangyi Island (Elephant Island) calculates that on average at action a commercially graded pearl will sell for $200 USD per Momme; a low-grade commercial around $120 and Jewellery grade $300 said Si Thu, Planning Director, Myanmar Atlantic.
Pearls With Lustre:
Chinese mythology saw pearls as children of the full moon. Today pearls that reflect the moon on their surface are held in high esteem.
A pearl’s Surface Quality is measured by the combination of two main factors: surface and lustre. That includes being ‘inclusion free’, with no craters, blemishes or wrinkles.
‘Lustre’ falls into six categories, with pearls of unparalleled qualities classed as ‘Gem Grade’. That’s just 5% of production, with no inclusions and a simply flawless surface.
Under Gem Grade sits AAA, then AA+, AA, A+ down to A.
The lowest Grade, ‘A’, indicates that 40% of the pearl’s surface is flawless, still has an impressive lustre, however, has deep inclusions.
The less inclusions the higher the grade, up to AAA, with 90% of the surface being flawless said Si Thu.
“There are some pearls where you look into the surface and see yourself reflected like a mirror. That’s lustre and something quite special,” said Sarkis Hajjar, Belpearl.
The Perfect Color Pearl:
At Belpearl Auctions, Dark Golden Pearls are highly sort after, with values drifting down as the color fades.
“We find that Dark Golden Pearls sell on par, or above white pearls. ‘Gold gold’ colors are a personal choice, and there is a huge disparity in the value of light-yellow pearls selling well below par with white,” said Sarkis Hajjar.
The Shape Of Pearls:
“We work on the premise, and work towards getting perfectly round pearls, as this is classically what people chose,” said Michael Hajjar.
“Various shapes are sold on the market. ‘Round’ holds the highest value, scaling down to ‘semi round’, ‘drop’, oval/button shaped, ringed (circle shaped) and finally Baroque,” said Sarkis Hajjar.
That maybe the general market but no rule sets the rules. “Unusual shapes can look stunning in a pendant or necklace.” said King.
Pearls, Big Is Beautiful:
From the house of Belpearl size is everything, almost. The average pearl produced on Shwe Kyun is between 9-11mm in diameter.
In the auction houses the smallest pearl is 7mm, and rarely can a pearl grow over 16mm.
There was one, memorable pearl, that took Michael’s breath away. A 19mm brilliant golden pearl. “This pearl was priceless. It was a force of nature. You simply couldn’t put a price on that, it’s one of a kind.”
Artificially Enhanced Pearls:
Pearls can be tested to check if they’re imitation, natural, or cultured or color treated. For anyone investing significant money, color and lustre can be graded.
However, choosing the appropriate lab is essential. “Testing for pearl quality manipulation requires standard and advanced technology”, said Win Wai, Gemmological Institute of Myanmar.
Contact the Gemological Institute of Myanmar at http://www.gi-myanmar.org for more details.