Why Collectors are Clamoring for Pearl Jewelry

Why Collectors are Clamoring for Pearl Jewelry

Learn More about Rare and Desirable Natural and Cultured Pearls
Learn More about Rare and Desirable Natural and Cultured Pearls

History and Provenance Of Pearl Jewelry

There is something truly magical about natural pearls. As they are a true miracle of nature, natural pearls stand out in many jewelry creations as some of the most timeless and admired. Pearls are known to symbolize love, beauty, and power. Throughout history, pearls have been worn by Emperors, Royals, and movie stars.

Today, natural pearls are increasingly rare. Due to the increase in ocean pollution, the source of natural pearls is nearly depleted. The majority of natural saltwater pearls were harvested 100 years ago. In the past few decades, cultured pearls have risen in popularity. Within high fashion, pearls are more prominent than ever on runways, celebrities, and in popular culture. Pearls have also been popularized on social media by both men and women. Most famously, Timothée Chalamet is known for sporting pearls day to night. Natural and cultured pearls are timeless and essential for every jewelry collection.

Difference Between Natural and Cultured Pearls

There is a distinct difference between cultured pearls and natural pearls. Natural Pearls are formed by nature without any human intervention. The formation of a pearl happens when an irritant enters a mollusk. The mullusk will secrete layers of nacre, a combination of aragonite and conchiolin, around the irritant. Over time a pearl forms inside naturally. A cultured pearl is created through human intervention. The process for creating a cultured pearl is the same except a small bead or piece of tissue is intentionally inserted into a mollusk to stimulate the production of nacre.

Why Natural Pearls Are So Expensive

Emerald and Diamond Natural Saltwater Pearl Necklace

The spectacular prices of natural pearls are determined by size, shape, surface quality, luster, and nacre. A ten-millimeter diameter is a benchmark for a natural pearl. The nacre of a pearl refers to its thickness and quality. Thicker nacre usually indicates a higher quality and higher price. Pearls around ten-millimeter size can be anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000+ per pearl. The smoothness and luster of the skin is always an indication of value. The highest quality pearls with no imperfections are scarce. The best way to evaluate the luster of a pearl is the way it reflects light; the more mirror-like appearance, the higher the value.

Cartier White Gold, Cultured Pearl and Diamond Necklace

Color is also very important. A white-cream color with light pink overtones is the most desirable. Additionally, natural-colored pearls are increasingly sought after. Multi-colored hues of gray, green, pink, and purple are also currently trending. Natural pearls with distinguished historical provenance are very popular by discerning collectors and have been featured in many of Sotheby’s auctions.

Cultured Pearls

Platinum, Cultured Pearl and Diamond Strand Necklace

Cultured pearls have been in fashion for decades, as the source of natural pearls is extremely low. The creation of cultured pearls involves human intervention. The process involves implanting a small bead or piece of tissue into an oyster or mollusk, which then secretes layers of nacre around the irritant, forming a pearl. This process can take years as it takes time for the pearls to grow within the oyster or mollusk. Cultured pearls have revolutionized the pearl industry by making these gems more accessible. While they may be more accessible than natural pearls, cultured pearls are still very expensive. A curated selection of cultured pearl jewelry is available on Sotheby's Buy Now Marketplace. The price for cultured pearls on Sotheby's marketplace ranges from $5K - $75K.

Exceptional Natural Pearls At Auction

White Gold, Cultured Pearl and Diamond Earrings

Given the rarity of high quality natural pearls, we are seeing impressive prices due to strong demand relative to supply. Sotheby’s is a world market leader in sourcing exceptional natural pearl jewelry and has achieved record-breaking prices for pearl necklaces and other pearl jewelry in recent years. One of the most famous natural pearl pendants to come to auction is the Marie Antoinette 18th Century Pearl and Dimond Pendant. This natural pearl pendant sold for 36M CHF, approximately $41M. This one-of-a-kind creation is not only a historically relevant piece, but features one of the biggest natural pearls. The size of the pearl is 15.90 x 18.35 x 25.85mm, approximately the size of a goji berry. Another incredible auction result was this Superb natural pearl and diamond necklace sold for 1M CHF, approximately $1.1M. Prices for natural pearl necklaces have been very strong recently due to a resurgence in popularity and rarity in the market. A Natural Pearl and Cultured Pearl necklace sold for $552,000 ,over 7x the high estimate of $70,000 in June 2024. Another recent impressive sale was a Tiffany & Co Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace selling for $300,000 compared to a high estimate of $60,000. These results illustrate the extraordinary appeal and impressive demand for natural pearl jewelry.

Styling Pearls For Everyone and Every Season

Harry Winston Platinum, Cultured Pearl and Diamond Collar Necklace

Coco Chanel once said, “A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls”. The iconic designer has featured pearls in countless of her clothing designs, bags, and fashion jewelry collections. Coco Chanel's legacy along with cinema has defined the pearl craze of the 21st century. Outside of high fashion and film, pearls are an easy way to elevate any outfit. Additionally, pearls are a great option for brides as they are known to symbolize purity and innocence. For those more trend-focused, many fashion designers continue to push the pearl trend into their gender-fluid designs. No matter what your personal style is, pearl jewelry is always a great addition to any outfit or occasion. Through Sotheby's Marketplace, you can shop natural and cultured pearl necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings.

Buying and Selling Pearl Jewelry at Sotheby's

Sotheby's has several ways to buy and sell Natural and Cultured Pearl jewelry. We have jewelry auctions in New York, Geneva, Paris, and Hong Kong annually with a curated selection of rare natural pearl rings and other pearl jewelry. Sotheby's also has a curated selection of pearl jewelry available for immediate purchase through our marketplace. You can also contact a Salon Associate in New York or Bucherer in Zurich to learn more about pearl jewelry at Sotheby's. If you have natural or cultured pearl jewelry to sell, you can contact a Jewelry Specialist to learn more about your selling options.

Jewelry Buy Now The Luxury Sales

About the Author

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

arrow Created with Sketch. Back To Top