Glitter: How to pick your pearls

Few gems evoke the qualities of mystery and seduction quite like the pearl.  From earring studs to opera-length strands, this is the vital information you need to know in order to purchase pearls with confidence:

Size: Pearls are measured by the millimeter. Typical sizes range from 2mm to 12mm. If all other factors are equal, the larger pearl will command the higher price. Large pearls take longer to grow, and therefore are more rare, which makes them more valuable.

Luster: The luster of the pearl is the glowing sheen of its surface. Luster is made up from the layers of nacre, which is the substance made within the oyster that forms the pearl. Thick nacre will give the pearl a reflective, mirror-like surface. To test the quality, look for your reflection on the surface of the pearl. If your image is clear and sharp, you are looking at an expensive pearl. If the image is fuzzy or unclear, this indicates thin nacre, and a less valuable pearl.

Shape: Pearls are formed in nature and perfectly round pearls are difficult to come by. A perfectly round pearl will be more expensive than a slightly off-round pearl, even if the size and luster are equal. Pearls are generally categorized as round, semi-round or "baroque". While baroque might sound like a fancy way of saying, “misshaped", this isn't true. Baroque pearls have an organic shape and a distinct beauty of their own and may prove to be a good value against their highly priced round counterparts.

Surface: The surface of the pearl is also a determining factor when it comes to price. The pearls with the least amount of surface blemishes (small blisters or pits) will be more valuable. Also, surface imperfections can interfere with the luster even if the nacre is thick.

Pearls are an elegant staple of a woman’s jewelry wardrobe and are one of the few gems that look equally at home at a job interview or a wedding.

Consider a pair of pearl stud earrings, like these from Blue Nile, which are 7mm akoya pearls (saltwater pearls from Japan) set in 18K gold.  A classic look, they will complement just about any occasion.

Treat yourself: 18k Gold Akoya Cultured Pearl Earrings, $185.00, Bluenile.com, 800-242-2728 (US), 888-565-7609 (Canada)

—Judy Ann Olsen

Fabulous finds under $50

While akoya may be the first word in quality pearls, don't overlook their freshwater Chinese cousins for value and versatility. These go-anywhere-with-anything simple studs are available from are set in 14K gold.

Treat yourself: 14k Gold Freshwater Cultured Pearl Earrings (5.0mm), $45 BlueNile.com

Judy Ann Olsen is a NYC-based author and jewelry expert who's worked for internationally recognized jewelry design houses and is a graduate of the Gemological Institute of America. Specializing in diamonds and couture jewelry, Judy Ann has been a fixture in the New York jewelry industry for over 13 years. Website: JudyAnnOlsen.com; Contact: JudyAnnOlsen[at]msn.com


Goods: Knit a cap for the rainforest

In coffee shops nationwide, women are assembling for knitting “Stitch 'n Bitch” sessions. Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Sara Jessica Parker have all hopped on the two-needled bandwagon. And before Sex and the City said its goodbyes, Charlotte proclaimed knitting “the new yoga.” Are you waiting for a formal invitation?

Consider yourself invited. These aren’t your grandmother’s purls anymore. And as Yarn Barns and knitting circles (there’s actually a “Booze and Yarn” group in New York City!) expand before our very eyes, you may be looking for something extra special.

The Rainforest Site offers lush wool yarn in rich hues of rusty red and sea green for $29.95 a pound. But here’s the real warm and fuzzy part: For each purchase of two skeins of yarn (that’s what knitters call those little bundles), the folks at The Rainforest Site will preserve 2290 square feet of land in Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay and other rainforest locations worldwide. The wool is homespun and is imported, fair trade, from Nepal.

Worried that a scarf might lead to a blanket and the next thing you know, you’re working on a chartreuse toilet cozy? Well, once your friends and relatives are outfitted for the winter, there’s more good to be done. Charitable organizations nationwide—such as carewear.org, which gives free knitwear to babies in hospitals, and kaps4karing.com, which provides cute homemade caps for chemotherapy patientswill gladly provide a philanthropic outlet for your new knitting addiction.

Treat yourself: Homepsun Yarn, Set of 2 skeins, $29.95, TheRainforest
Site.com, (888) 811-5271 (US and Canada), (206) 268-5400 (everywhere else)

 —Heather Pamula

Did you know?

Every second of every day an area of rainforest the size of two football fields is destroyed. Tropical deforestation results in the loss of 100 species per day.


Did you know?

Covering less than 2 percent of the Earth's total surface area, the world's rainforests are home to 50 percent of the Earth's plants and animals.


Did you know?

More than 20% of the world's oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest.


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