The mention of pearl jewellery used to conjure in my mind the iconic opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Wearing an elaborate five-strand pearl necklace that met in the dip of her collarbone with a substantial diamond-embellished centerpiece, Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly stared wistfully into a window of the Tiffany & Co store on New York City’s Fifth Avenue while Moon River played.
Although the necklace was beautiful, it was, ironically, what turned me off pearls. The scene illustrated every misconception I had held about pearl jewellery – that they had to be worn with elegant little black dresses and fancy hairdos of the kind Hepburn was sporting. Pearls, to me then, were for prim and proper ladies (it was only the opening scene of the movie; I didn’t know about Golightly’s not-so-prim-and-proper job yet). I didn’t think I was prim and proper enough. Neither did I consider myself a lady (I still don’t think I am).
It took a Sevan Biçakçi masterpiece to change my opinion about pearls. I encountered his works in person for the first time in 2015. One piece really stood out to me – an octopus hand bracelet in gold and oxidised silver, with articulated diamond-set tentacles that wrap around the hand and wrist. Masquerading as the octopus’ head was a gigantic baroque pearl the size of a ping pong ball. It was this piece that showed me pearl jewellery can be edgy and fun, that it’s just as much for the lady as it is for the rebel. Suddenly, I wanted pearls in my collection.
In search of my first pearls, I stumbled upon Pearl Paradise. Headed by Jeremy Shepherd, it claims to be the world’s largest online pearl company with one of the biggest pearl inventories in the United States, carrying more than a million pearls. Because of the size of its operations, it is able to negotiate very competitive bulk prices with pearl farms, making high quality pearl jewellery accessible to the average Joe on the street. While its prices tempted me, it was the slew of positive buyer reviews online that sold me.
The Pink to Peach Freshwater Pearl Bracelet
Although I had decided to take the plunge and get my first pearls, I remained a little intimidated by the classic whites. I decided to go for something that was, in my mind, a little younger and less ladylike – pink pearls. Since this is a colour that naturally occurs in freshwater pearls, it worked out perfectly for me. Freshwater pearls are the most affordable variety and as with every online store new to me, I wanted to test the waters with a first purchase of lower value. I eventually decided on the Pink to Peach Freshwater Pearl Bracelet with the smallest available bead size of six to seven millimetres.
Most Pearl Paradise pieces are listed with a few customisable options. In the case of this bracelet, buyers are allowed to choose the type of metal (14-carat white or yellow gold) used for the clasp and pearl grade (AA or AAA), with prices increasing accordingly. Due to the store’s exceptional value, I could afford the higher AAA grade pearls. I chose the yellow gold clasp, which I thought would complement the peach tones of the pearls perfectly.
By default, the bracelet is available in lengths of seven, seven and a quarter, seven and half, and eight inches. For lengths not listed online, the buyer will have to leave a request in the comments box during checkout. I thought I would suit a six-inch bracelet with my five-inch wrist, but wasn’t sure. I decided to email customer service for advice, and was recommended to have my bracelet strung to six and a half inches. After much thought, I decided to trust my instincts and go with six inches instead.
I’m glad I went with my instincts and opted for the six-inch length instead of the six and a half. As attentive as Erin from customer service was, she had not mentioned that the filigree hook closure, being a long almond shape with a rather large hook, would add a whole inch to the bracelet. I might actually have done better with a five and a half-inch bracelet length.
For the most part, Pearl Paradise’s website is easy to navigate and I appreciate the pearl grade option that enable buyers to make choices depending on their budgets. However, it isn’t clearly stated how buyers can request for unlisted lengths, and I only found out how to do so after emailing customer service. The buying process will probably become more efficient if a bar where buyers can fill in their preferred length is made available.
Unlike diamond grading, there is no standardised grading system for pearls. There are, however, two widely used systems – the AAA-A and the A-D. Unfortunately, there are no recognised parameters for the grades within these systems, so vendors and jewellers are free to define for themselves the quality that each grade should command. This means that an AA-grade pearl from one jeweller may be considered of AAA grade at another jeweller. Since there are no industry-recognised parameters, it’s important to look at the individual jeweller’s quality descriptions for each grade when judging whether the product received is as expected.
Pearl Paradise uses the AAA-A system. For AAA-grade freshwater pearls (which was what I purchased), the quality description given on its site is as follows:
The pearls indeed have excellent luster. I was given an Akoya pearl from Pearl Paradise as a gift a few months after I purchased this bracelet and compared to the Akoya, the luster on these freshwater pearls are not as sharp and metallic, but close. They even display some mirror reflection when put under a concentrated indoor light (I used a reading light with an adjustable arm), which I wasn’t able to capture in photos.
When viewed casually, every bead appears to be perfectly round but closer observation reveals many of them to be slightly flat and more of a near round shape. Out of the 21 beads in my bracelet, I counted six that have blemishes and probably shouldn’t be considered AAA grade. When the jewellery requires matching pearls, it is common for a minority of the pearls not to live up to the piece’s general grade classification. Priority is usually given to colour matching, sacrificing grade matching when necessary, and rightly so – colour matching will influence the aesthetic of the piece more significantly than any millimetre-long blemish can. The pearls on my bracelet are well-matched in colour with very slight differences in tones that are only visible when viewed under strong light. The excellent colour matching has me convinced that the six pearls with blemishes are excusable.
The only gripe I have with the bracelet is the filigree hook closure. As previously mentioned, it adds a little too much length to the bracelet, leaving about an inch of all-closure-no-pearl segment in the jewellery, which I am not a fan of. I was very excited about the filigree design when I made the purchase because I found it very unusual and beautiful, but I don’t like it enough to be on board with it taking up space that could have been occupied by two pearls. The closure is also very fiddly and it is also almost impossible to put the bracelet on, on my own, without someone helping.
|Communicating with customer service was a joy. I had a reply to my first email in just one and a half hours. Subsequent messages saw replies within an hour, with the longest wait for an answer being just four hours.||
The advice given regarding length was not accurate and did not take into account the inch added by the hook closure.
|The bracelet was sent out three days after I placed the order. It arrived at Stockholm about two weeks later via USPS International, well within the given estimated time frame of two to three weeks.||None.|
|The jewellery came securely packaged. Included was an appraisal stating the pearls’ quality grade and a pearl care kit comprising a polishing cloth and two packs of wet tissues for cleaning the pearls.||The jewellery box is lined with black velvet, which sheds black fibres on the pearls.|