A Graduation Gift that Stands the Test of Time

“The only real failure in life is one not learned from.”
Anthony J. D’Angelo, The College Blue Book

A lot of time, talent and hard work went into getting the graduate where she is today. Mark the occasion with something more memorable than money…gorgeous pearls. Learn how to choose an affordable, quality pearl pendant, pearl strand, pearl earrings, and more.

Ah, graduation. A lot of hard work, time, talent, money and drive have led to this point: a milestone that will be celebrated, photographed and remembered forever. Whether from high school, college, law school, medical school, or what have you, graduation is a wonderful time of excitement and change.

How to mark the occasion? You can always write a check. (What new graduate doesn’t need money?) Before you whip out your wallet, however, remember that cash is practical, yet very impersonal. Because you’re reading this, it’s a good guess that the graduate is a special woman in your life, she worked hard to get where she is, and she deserves a graduation gift that is truly memorable.

How about something memorable, practical, meaningful and beautiful? Try pearls.

Pearl jewelry—whether pearl studs, a pearl pendant or a beautiful pearl strand—is a classic and wonderful addition to any woman’s jewelry box. Whether she’s heading off to college, interviewing for jobs, about to embark on a career, or planning a wedding, the recent graduate can wear pearl jewelry for instant polish. Added bonus: She’ll remember you every time she wears them.

Which pearls to choose
Pearls come in many beautiful styles, shapes and designs, but for graduation, a simple classic style that will stand the test of time is best. (They don’t call them staples for nothing.) Because classic pearls are so popular, there are a variety of options from which to choose. The following are classics she’ll reach for again and again.

•    Pearl stud earrings: The great thing about pearl studs is that they go with everything. Round, white pearls with a rosé overtone flatter most skin types, and make a wonderful addition to any jewelry box. Some stores even carry pearl studs for non-pierced ears.
•    16 inch pearl strand: A matched pearl strand is a jewelry staple for a reason: it’s a classic—not to mention a no-brainer accessory that a woman can reach for to instantly add polish to an outfit. Shorter strands worn closer to the throat draw attention to the wearer’s face and skin; with their dewy complexions, young women look fantastic in pearl chokers. This style sits close to the throat and looks great with a business suit, v-neck sweater, tee-shirt or open-collared dress shirt.
•    18 inch pearl strand: This slightly more versatile, “princess” length necklace can be worn with most any neckline, and will serve the graduate well throughout her life. The princess length is a very popular choice for a great reason: it works well with everything from turtlenecks to sweaters, business suits, dress shirts, and more.
•    pearl pendant: A pearl pendant necklace featuring a single, large pearl is a great option that can be worn with many different styles. Choose a thin sterling silver or white gold chain for a modern look.
•    pearl bracelet: A perfect complement to a bold watch, and slightly more affordable than a pearl necklace, a pearl bracelet adds polish and class.
•    pearl ring: A pearl ring can make quite a bold and sophisticated statement, especially when the ring features a single, large pearl. The only downside to buying a ring is that you need to know the graduate’s ring size. Classic pearl rings look fantastic with both white and yellow gold.

Many retailers and online stores sell classic pearl jewelry in sets. Not only is this great because you pay less for the set than if you purchased a necklace, earrings and bracelet separately, but buying a pearl jewelry set provides the added bonus that the pieces will match.

What to look for
No matter which style you choose, or whether you buy pearls from a local jewelry store, large retail chain or Internet store (which should offer adequate descriptions of what you’re buying along with a money-back guarantee), keep in mind these tips when you’re shopping for pearls and you won’t go wrong:
•    You’ll pay more for larger pearls. In general, a larger pearl takes longer to form, and the chances of finding a perfectly round, large pearl are slim. After the 7.5-8mm mark for freshwater cultured pearls and akoya cultured pearls, the most popular pearl types, prices rise dramatically. A 6.5mm strand is both lovely and affordable—and perfect for young women.
•    Pay attention to luster and surface. Pearls should have a high luster, or surface sheen, meaning they reflect light well. They should also be free from large blemishes such as chips and pits, although small blemishes are acceptable. An absolutely perfect strand is likely faux. Pearls are, after all, a natural product, and small variations are to be expected and do not detract from the pearls’ value.
•    Round is the hands-down favorite shape. While baroque pearls are gorgeous, and button and coin pearls are modern and affordable, when it comes to classic pearls, round is still in. To check that pearls are uniformly round, ask the jeweler or read the Internet description. If you can handle the strand, roll it on a table. Matched pearls will roll smoothly.
•    Thickness is important. Most pearls sold today are cultured pearls, and the best ones are formed in oysters or mussels that have been implanted with small, mother-of-pearl beads and mantle tissue or mantle tissue only and left in the water long enough for a sufficient coating of nacre to form. Avoid pearls that have been implanted with large plastic or glass beads or harvested prematurely; they will flake and peel easily.
•    Pay attention to uniformity. Make sure that pearls in a piece of jewelry are the same size, color, shape and luster.
•    Beware: Some jewelry makers try to hide smaller or imperfect pearls near the clasp.
•    Choose color carefully. Pearls look best if they flatter the skin tone of the wearer.

Follow these pearl-buying tips, choose wisely, and your graduate will have a jewelry staple she’ll treasure forever.

A graduate of the Gemological Institute of America’s Graduate Pearls program, Amy Drescher is a fashion writer and accessories buyer.

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