Pricing and Rarity of Pearls

The rarity of large, fine pearls and the rapid increase of price by weight, also, the price per grain base, tables for calculating pearl price, and pearls as treasures

Since large, fine pearls are exceedingly rare, the value mounts with size much more rapidly than is the case with any other gem; in fact, the value increases as the square of the weight. For example, let us consider two pearls, one of one grain weight, the other of two grains, and both of the same grade as to quality. If the smaller is worth say $2 per grain, then the larger is worth 2 X 2 (the square of the weight) times $2 (the price per grain base, as it is called in the trade), which totals $8. A four-grain pearl of this grade would be worth 4 X 4 X $2 = $32, etc. Thus it is seen that the price increases very rapidly with increase in weight.

Price "Per Grain Base." Some of the lower grades of pearls in small sizes are sold by the grain straight, that is, the price per grain is merely multiplied by the weight in grains to get the value, just as the price per carat would be multiplied by the number of carats to get the value of a diamond. This method of figuring the value of pearls is used only for the cheaper grades and small sizes, however, and the method first explained, the calculation per grain base, is the one in universal use for fine gems. Very fine exceptional gems may be sold at a large price for the piece, regardless of the weight.

It is interesting to note in this connection that Tavernier, the French gem merchant of the seventeenth century, tells us that in his day the price of large diamonds was calculated by a method similar to that which we now use for pearls, that is, the weight in carats was squared and the product multiplied by the price per carat. Such a method would give far too high a price for diamonds to-day.

The High Price of Fine Pearls. This suggests the thought that pearls of fine quality and great size are the most costly of all gems to-day and yet there seems to be no halting in the demand for them. In fact, America is only just beginning to get interested in pearls and is coming to esteem them as they have long been esteemed in the East and in Europe. Those who have thought that the advance in the prices of diamonds in recent years will soon put them at prohibitive rates should consider the enormous prices that have been obtained and are being obtained for fine pearls.

In order to facilitate the calculating of prices of pearls, tables have been computed and published giving the values of pearls of all sizes at different prices per grain base, and several times these tables have been outgrown, and new ones, running to higher values, have been made. The present tables run to $50 per grain base.

There is much justification for the high prices demanded and paid for large and fine pearls. Such gems are really exceedingly scarce. Those who, as boys, have opened hundreds of river mussels only to find a very few small, badly misshapen "slugs" will realize that it is only one mollusc in a very large number that contains a fine pearl. Moreover, like the bison and the wild pigeon, the pearl-bearing molluscs may be greatly diminished in numbers or even exterminated by the greed of man and his fearfully destructive methods of harvesting nature's productions. In fact, the fisheries have been dwindling in yield for some time, and most of the fine pearls that are marketed are old pearls, already drilled, from the treasuries of Eastern potentates, who have been forced by necessity to accept the high prices offered by the West for part of their treasures. In India, pearls have long been acceptable collateral for loans, and many fine gems have come on the market after failure of the owners to repay such loans.


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