Gem Buckle Multiple Strand Pearl Necklace

Understanding Different Pearl Types

If you would do a survey of what jewelry women most commonly have in their jewelry box, a strand of pearls would probably be at the top of the list. Pearls have an iconic, timeless and classic look. You can wear them when you want to be fancy and dress up or you can wear them with jeans and a t-shirt. May people inherited a strand from their mother or grandmother, and they have sentimental value. Let’s delve a bit deeper into understanding more about the different kinds of pearls.

Natural Pearls

As the name suggests, these ones are naturally formed without any human intervention. The formation happens when accidentally an irritant (parasite) gets into an oyster, mussel soft tissue. As a defense mechanism to ease discomfort, the oyster secretes a fluid (hard crystalline) substance known as nacre all over the irritant to protect itself, hence lustrous gem called pearl (natural) is formed.

Nowadays, it is rare to get natural pearls; therefore, cultured pearls are gaining popularity for its availability.

Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls undergo the same process as natural pearls; however, the formation does not happen organically. Cultured pearls are grown by farmers by inserting the irritant shell bead nucleus inside the oyster’s soft tissue in a controlled environment. Afterward, the process of nacre layers is formed naturally imitating the normal development of the natural ones.

Freshwater Pearls

In other words, they are known as cultured freshwater pearls derived from freshwater mussels (rivers, ponds or lakes). These pearls pass through a number of stages before coming up with a fine type. They are graded according to their luster, color, and shape. After the grading process, freshwater pearls further are taken at the factory for treatment and bleaching. The final stage they are polished using wax and cornmeal. Initially freshwater pearls were made in the United States and Japan; however, today China is the one that produces the majority of them.

Only a small percent of freshwater pearls are near the perfect shape, most take an irregular shape known as baroque/ semi-baroque. Interestingly, this irregular shape is fun and exciting to wearers who love their variety of colors.

Saltwater Pearls

Saltwater Pearls are formed as a result of oysters found in Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Tahiti oceans. Pearls made of saltwater are pricey compared to freshwater pearls as they take longer to grow. Many think freshwater pearls are human-made while saltwater pears are natural, which is untrue. Most pearls you find on the market are human grown specimen as natural pearls are expensive and extremely rare to find.

It takes a couple of years to grow saltwater pearls as the irritant inserted into the oyster is pretty large while the nacre formation is thin, but of good quality. Freshwater pearls take months to grow, but in comparison, saltwater is of more value than freshwater. The freshwater composition is thicker than its counterpart and recently they have been cultured to produce better results.

South Sea Pearls

South sea pearls have exceptional quality above Freshwater pearls. They are the most unique rare type of all cultured pearls. South sea pearls are derived from the white-lipped variety of (Pinctada Maxima) oyster. The oyster is a bit larger than freshwater pearl and Akoya type. Due to its rarity and difficult cultivation process, the pearl is the most expensive of all pearls. These can come in stunning yellows, whites and pinks.

Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian Pearls, also known as black pearls for their dark natural color. They are the second priciest cultured pearls in the world. Tahitian comes from black-lip oyster and has a remarkable range of colors covering from light, grey, creamy white, deep black, iridescent peacock, and regal green. Although the pearl carries the name of the famous Tahitian island, the pearl is cultured in Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Micronesian islands, and some areas of Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand. However, the French Polynesian ones are pure Tahitian pearls.

Akoya Pearls

Akoya pearls are also known as the traditional pearls that were the first one to be cultured. They are white, highly lustrous, and classic round.  Originally they are cultured from Japan salty water while some are grown in China, the Persian Gulf, and Southeast Asia.  The mollusk and the environment the pearl is cultured, matter a lot to the final product of the pearl. For instance, Japan water seems to be cooler than other places Akoya is produced resulting in top quality pearl and beautiful shiny luster.


When buying your pearls, or trying to understand what kind you already own, make sure to do your research. You may need to ask an expert to have your pearls appraised by an expert like Enjoy your pearls!

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