Dr. Michael Krzemnicki: Pearls of Wisdom

Dr. Michael Krzemnicki: Pearls of Wisdom

The Director of Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF discusses the history, rarity and value of pearls.

The Director of Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF discusses the history, rarity and value of pearls.

Lot 643 (Jewels & Jadeite Hong Kong Fall 2020): A Fine Natural Pearl, Emerald and Diamond Necklace. Estimate: HK$2,200,000 - 3,200,000.

When it comes to grading precious stones and gems, Dr Michael S. Krzemnicki is the person to know. One of the most recognized published writers and speakers in the world of gems, with over two decades of experience at SSEF – Swiss Gemmological Institute – the world's leading testing laboratory for colored gemstones, diamonds and pearls, and as a lecturer at the University of Basel, Dr Krzemnicki is a highly reputable gem expert.

We took a moment to catch up with the expert to learn about pearls – their cultural and historical significance, their increasing scarcity and the value they hold.

Dr. Michael Krzemnicki, Director of Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF

PHILLIPS (P): Pearls have been around for centuries and are highly sought after by collectors today. Can you tell us where their value lies?

MICHAEL KRZEMNICKI (MK): Since ancient times, pearls have been revered for their obvious beauty, but also because of they have long been associated with mythical beliefs and powers in cultures from the East to the West. Consequently, pearls are found in important royal collections as well as in recent creations because they continue to fascinate jewelry designers and collectors for their beauty, rarity and the historical context they offer.


P: We see many different types of pearls on the market. Can you tell us a little about their differences?

MK: The two main types of pearls are natural pearls and cultured pearls. Pearls can be found in freshwater or saltwater molluscs. They differ in the way they are formed and consequently in their internal structures: natural pearls are rare and form accidentally in a wild oyster in the absence of any human interference, whereas cultured pearls are produced in pearl farms and are created by humans inserting a small tissue implant to trigger their formation, and may optionally contain a shell bead inside.

Lot 539: A Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace. Estimate: HK$160,000 - 240,000

P: Since natural pearls are formed by chance, how rare are they?

MK: Natural pearls of fine quality are exceptionally rare, especially when compared to cultured pearls which are produced in pearl farms in rather large quantities. Natural pearls form accidentally, without any human intervention and require specific formation conditions to reach a certain size with very fine luster.


P: How would one tell the difference between a natural and cultured pearl?

MK: Natural and cultured pearls differ in the way they are formed and consequently in their internal structures. It is usually not possible to distinguish natural pearls from cultured pearls without advanced testing methods. These include x‐ray radiography and microtomography – both absolutely non‐invasive methods to visualize and separate the internal characteristics and structures of pearls. 

Lot 529: Mikimoto - A Conch Pearl, Cultured Pearl and Diamond Necklace. Estimate: HK$250,000 - 350,000

P: What are the major challenges facing the pearl market today?

MK: Today, the pearl market is mainly dominated by cultured pearls, which face challenges such as overproduction, price instability, and on a global level climate change.
The natural pearl trade is a niche market and is very limited in supply. It’s imperative to raise awareness about the beautiful individuality of natural pearls, their rarity and their historical context, specifically to the next generation of collectors.


P: What advice can you share with potential collectors who are looking to buy at auction?

MK: In my opinion, by far the most important factor is to choose a pearl based on personal preferences – be it shape, color, luster, the way it is set in jewelry or provenance. It is also vital that any pearl you buy is accompanied by a report from an international reputed gemological laboratory.



Discover More

Forces of Nature: A Jewels Collection Inspired by the Five Elements

Feng J 'Les Jardins de Giverny' | Hong Kong | 2020