Is there anything more classic or sophisticated than a string of pearls? Less showy than diamonds but equally precious, these oyster-derived gemstones have been loved for centuries for their unique shapes and high luster.
But while their popularity hasn’t waned, the way designers are using pearls is changing. “When most people think of pearls, they picture grandma’s big, white pearl strands,” says Tiffany Chao, a gemologist and the co-founder of Los Angeles-based jewelry label Auroro. But modern pearl jewelry, she says, couldn’t be further from this classic image. A modern jewelry ensemble can include a short pendant with a single round pearl layered with coordinated gold chains or a chunky strand of baroque pearls best worn with an open neckline to show off your decolletage.
More and more contemporary fine jewelry brands are putting their own spin on the classic pearl necklace, and it’s most probably become one of the most coveted accessories of the moment. So, where can you find the best pearl necklace brands to start partaking in this new fashion norm?
We’ll tell you. To help you find the perfect one, we've spent many hours researching and selecting the most unique, beautiful, and accessible brands from which you can find a treasure, or two. We’ve included a range of price points—from the most affordable to the best investment—so you can find a piece that works for you.
Monica Vinader is our go-to for the coolest contemporary jewelry. The designs are so easy to wear and fairly affordable, with most necklaces priced under $400. It has a dedicated selection of pearl pieces that mostly consists of pearl pendants. Some of the most unique pieces are the Nura Biwa Pearl Beaded Chain Necklace, which features a single Biwa pearl on a chain with matching gold beads strung throughout, as well as the Nura Pearl Necklace, a delicate gold chain pendant with a single baroque pearl. (You can find more information on the types of pearls below.)
Price Range: $100–$300
Icelandic jeweler Aurum should be on your radar for its simple but distinctive pearl necklaces. Case in point: the Perla Necklace, which features a smooth and lustrous freshwater pearl encased in silver and strung on a thin rope chain. Though any design you choose will be handcrafted with care—the brand assures that. It offers a lifetime guarantee for every piece it makes. We consider it an eco-friendly option because it also advertises its ethical sources, like recycled and re-refined precious metals and conflict-free precious stones.
Price Range: $110–$700
Mejuri has indeed become a buzzy brand in the jewelry space—and understandably so. Its offerings are cute and affordable (a great combination for everyday jewelry.) The Pearl Station Necklace embraces the ’90s with its choker-like style. Because it’s delicate, it’s ideal for every day, and it’ll only run you $128 pre-tax. Though, if you like to switch things up often, we’d suggest investing in a chain and various charms from the brand, such as the Gumball Pearl Sphere Charm Pendant, a bezel set pearl charm, or the Biwa Pearl Charm, for a rugged, wild-caught effect. Other bonuses of the brand are its sustainable practices, e.g., its majority use of recycled metals, and its two-year warranty.
Price Range: $50–$250
When it comes to pearls, you can’t go wrong with Mikimoto. The label’s founder, Kokichi Mikimoto, is widely credited with creating the world’s first cultured pearls in the 1890s, and his business remains a destination for timeless and ultra-luxurious pearl jewelry (this dainty pearl pendant necklace is one of its more affordable options). Choose from a range of pearls including Akoya, Baroque, and South Sea (Black, White, or Golden) in its designs. Every finished piece has Mikimoto’s seal of approval—just look for an engraved outline of an oyster or the Mikimoto name.
Price Range: Starts at $3,000
If you can’t visit its store in Williamsburg, you don’t need to worry, because Catbird’s online store is equally delicious. When it comes to pearl necklaces, it has plenty of necklaces from designers including Stacey Nishimoto (get a good look at these black iridescent pearls), Faris, and Wwake, in addition to its own collection.
Price Range: $38–$850
STONE AND STRAND
STONE AND STRAND’s founder Nadine Kahane champions cute affordable jewelry. Her pearl necklaces, like the Tiny Solitaire Pearl Necklace and the Freeform Pearl Diamond Initial Necklace, are perfect to add to a mix of layered necklaces and retail for $450 or less. We also love the brand’s commitment to sustainable practices, like its repair services to help extend the life of your piece, and its generous 100-day return policy.
Price Range: $210–$450
Mateo New York
Mateo’s pearl necklace creations are a beautiful mix of antitheses: delicate but substantial, modern but timeless. Take its 14kt Gold Baroque Pearl Strand Necklace—it appears as a contemporary take on classic pearls, made with rugged baroque pearls over the ultra classic round ones. For versatility, it even comes with a two-inch extension perfect for layering with an existing pendant necklace.
Price Range: $390–$22,000
Roxanne Assoulin is best known for her campy, rainbow-colored baubles, but her faux pearl pieces are just as sweet. Her Princess Pearls Necklace is composed of two strings of glass pearl-like beads. (The outer string features large ones while the inner string shows a smaller size.) The clasps are the designer’s signature button closures with woven red threads on each side for a signature pop of color. Her Pearl Party Necklace offers a similar design with even more color, as it’s strung not only with the aforementioned glass pearls but with enamel-coated beads, too.
Price Range: $90–$125
Tiffany & Co.
Finally, one of the most classic (and mainstream) options is Tiffany, the maker known for its glossy fine jewelry and signature turquoise boxes. We love its mix of traditional and modern elements in its pearl necklaces, such as metal gauge links paired with cultured pearls in the Pearl Lock Necklace, or Elsa Peretti’s ’70s-inspired Mesh Tie Necklace with fringe-like pearls at each end of the piece. The price range at Tiffany & Co. is huge so while some pearl necklaces are astronomical in price, others start at around $700.
Price Range: $300–$16,000
Monica Vinader is our all-around favorite brand for pearl necklaces, as we think the quality of its pearl jewelry is amazing, especially given its accessible price range. Ditto for Mejuri, which runs a close second. However, if you’re going for something more luxe, you should spring for a piece from Mateo’s selection of pearl necklaces.
What to Look for in Pearl Necklace Brands
According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), there are two different types of pearls, natural and cultured. Natural pearls come from the bodies of certain mollusks in the wild. Cultured pearls, on the other hand, are essentially farmed-raised. There are several subcategories of cultured pearls, such as Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian, and freshwater (Biwa pearls fall into this category).This guide by the GIA can provide you with more information on each.
Like diamonds, pearls can come with an accreditation verifying their quality and origin. They come in the form of grading reports performed by reputable organizations like the GIA and the American Gem Society (AGS). “It’s just not as common compared to how prominent these types of grading reports are done on diamonds,” says Katie Zimmerman, Chief Merchandising Officer at Blue Nile. “Not all pearls will be graded, but you shouldn’t make your purchase decision based on this.” Buying pearls from a trusted retailer is another way that you can ensure they’re great quality.
How can you pick a high-quality pearl?
“The tell-tale sign of a quality pearl is its luster,” says Chao. This refers to the light that’s reflected from the surface of the pearl. “A good quality pearl should exhibit a soft glow and high reflectiveness.”
What is the most popular type of pearl necklace?
A string of pearls worn at the neck (in the style of Holly Golightly) is the most classic type of pearl necklace. To put a modern spin on this look, follow the lead of celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw in And Just Like That… and layer it with a smaller or larger set. (Or, you can simply spring for Roxanne Assoulin's Princess Pearls Necklace, which does the work for you.) For a ’90s twist, choose a choker-like necklace, like Mateo’s Pearl Beaded Choker. A dainty option is best for every day, while a chunkier piece is great for evenings out on the town.
How do you care for pearl necklaces?
Pearls are soft natural gemstones and thus can be quite sensitive to substances like chlorine, sunscreen, perfume, and even perspiration. (By “soft” we mean that in terms of mineral hardness, they rank a 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, compared to diamonds, which rank a 10.) Experts say pearls should never be cleaned using ultrasonic light or steam. Instead, you can use warm, soapy water; just make sure you dry them quickly and thoroughly. When you take them off, store them in a soft and loose pouch to keep them from becoming scratched or dented.
Why Trust Byrdie
Hayley Prokos, Byrdie’s Associate Fashion Commerce Editor, edited this article. She researched the best pearl necklace brands and anything worth knowing to help readers make their best purchase.
Catherine Hufton is a Byrdie contributor who writes about fashion and shopping for a range of titles such as Elle UK, Harper’s Bazaar, and InStyle. She has worked as an editor for some of the world’s leading luxury fashion websites, MATCHESFASHION and Net-A-Porter. She remains a keen online shopper and loves nothing more than finding the perfect piece for Byrdie readers, or herself. For this article, she spoke to two gemology experts. Their insights helped to inform the selections and advice on what to look for provided above.
Abduriyim, A. (n.d.). Cultured pearls from lake kasumigaura: Production and gemological characteristics. Gems & Gemology.
Pearl care and cleaning guide. Gemological Institute Of America. (n.d.).