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• Health of mother oyster
• Length of time pearl is in oyster
• Time of year when pearl is harvested
• Pollution
• Abnormally wide variations in temperature
• Natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons
• Type of oyster used. For example, the mabe oyster (found mainly in the tropical seas of Southeast Asia)
can produce a pearl with a higher luster than those of the South Seas silver-lip oyster. The Akoya oyster is also noted for its capacity to produce pearls of high luster.

High luster is not merely the result of leaving a pearl in an Akoya oyster for an adequate length of time. As one can infer from the above list, cultivating a lustrous pearl is a complex process, and it involves skill and chance.

Judging Luster

Suppose we could line up all the pearls in the world according to the quality of their luster. We would notice that a very low percentage of the pearls would be at the end of the line with the best luster. We would also notice that the pearls would very gradually change in luster as we went down the line. In other words, there would be no distinct luster categories.

We could, however, divide the line of pearls into any number of equal ranges (categories) of luster. Then we could assign a luster name to each category such as very high, high, medium, low and very low. Luster categories like this are used by many gemologists and appraisers. Pearl dealers have their own in-house grading systems, which often combine various value factors. However, many dealers might feel that the terms "gem quality" or "AAAA" should only be applied to pearls having an exceptionally high luster. Don't assume, though, that a pearl strand labeled "AAAA" or "Gem" is necessarily top quality. It's a common practice to misuse grades by applying high ones to lower quality goods.

Very high luster pearls have sharp, intense, almost mirror-like light reflections, and there is a high contrast between their bright and dark areas.Such pearls are not always easy to find. In fact, you may be lucky to find a store in your area that has them in stock. Expect to pay premium prices for these pearls. For example, strands of very-high-luster, round, white Akoya pearls over 6 1/2 mm won't be priced in the hundreds of dollars; they'll be in the thousands of dollars. The actual cost of the strands will be determined by a variety of factors.

Very low luster pearls are easy to spot. They look very milky or chalky, and seem more like a white bead than a pearl. This is due to the low contrast between the light and dark areas of the pearls. Some jewelers won't stock this type of pearl, but others will. This is also the type of pearl a mail order place might be tempted to sell. The customer doesn't see what he's getting. He only sees the super low price listed in the catalogue.

The majority of the pearls sold in stores probably fall in the low and medium luster ranges. Many fine-quality jewelry stores also stock high-luster pearls. The best way to learn to recognize high-, medium-, and low-luster pearls is to look at strands representing these luster ranges. Some jewelers may show you short master strands illustrating these or similar categories, but they may use different category names such as "bright, " "commercial, " "AAA, " etc. Top-quality pearl salespeople are eager to help you see luster differences so you'll know what you are getting for your money. They don't want their prices unfairly compared to stores offering low-quality "bargain" pearls.
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