Few things come close to the beauty and rarity of the pearl. Iridescent, smooth, and perfectly round, pearls possess a unique appearance that few other gemstones can compare in quite the same way.
At first glance, it may seem as if all pearls were created equal. However, as first-time buyers may discover from their research, there are actually a few different types of pearls, varying in value, appearance, and creation. Today, we’ll explore the most common types of pearl you should know.
As the name implies, natural pearls are formed in the wild without human interference. These types of pearls are formed inside freshwater mussels or saltwater oysters, usually as a result of a biological defense mechanism whenever an external organism enters the shell. The mollusk produces a mineral sac composed of calcium carbonate and conchiolin called nacre to seal the irritant. Eventually, the nacre layers come to form a beautiful natural pearl.
Today, natural pearling is no longer as commonplace, with cultured pearls becoming far more popular.
In contrast to natural pearls, cultured pearls are grown by pearl farmers in more controlled environments. Pearl farmers implant mantle tissue from a donor shell into the mollusk, inducing it to produce a pearl sac. The difference between cultured and natural pearls is that cultured pearls can exhibit different color properties and have a solid center instead of concentric growth rings. Cultured pearls are generally more uniform in shape and size compared to natural pearls.
There is the misconception that cultured pearls are the same as imitation pearls. The truth is, cultured pearls cannot be considered imitation pearls, as they are still produced using the same organic reactions as natural pearls.
All of the following pearl types below are considered cultured pearls.
Freshwater pearls (also known as cultured freshwater pearls) come from freshwater mussels and are graded based on their luster, shape, and color. While freshwater pearls are often bought in the shell, they are also treated and bleached at factories, before being polished with cornmeal and wax. Freshwater pearls have historically been made in Japan and the United States, but today, a majority are produced in China.
Saltwater pearls are pearls produced in oysters from salty seas, oceans, and gulfs. Typically, saltwater pearls are made by transplanting a graft of the saltwater shell into the mantle or gonad of the oyster, with a bead as the nucleus. Popular saltwater pearls include Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea.
What’s the difference between freshwater and saltwater pearls?
While both freshwater and saltwater pearls are cultured, their final results vastly differ. For one, freshwater pearls are generally thicker due to greater nacre composition compared to their saltwater counterparts. Freshwater pearls are often less glossy, but today have been cultured to reproduce a greater variety of shapes and colors.
In terms of price, freshwater pearls are generally more affordable due to its abundance, while saltwater pearls have a higher price tag because of their sparkle and near-perfect shape.
Akoya pearls are among the most popular and prized pearl types, known for their perfect shape and pristine sparkle. In fact, many people claim that Akoya pearls shine brighter and appear larger than any other cultured pearl. Akoya pearls were traditionally cultured in the 1920s, a specialty of Japanese pearl farms. Today, Akoya pearls are a popular choice for earrings and necklaces.
The other pearls on this list so far possess a white or pale color, but Tahitian pearls feature an iridescent black. Tahitian pearls are among the rarest and most valuable, largely due to their culturing process. Unlike other pearls that can be mass produced, Tahitian pearls can only ever be cultured one at a time. Today, while Tahitian pearls are rarer than Akoya and freshwater pearls, they are still more common than the South Sea pearl.
South Sea Pearls
South Sea pearls are the rarest and largest pearls in this list, recognizable by their golden luster. According to the GIA, a South Sea pearl must be produced by the Pinctada maxima pearl oyster. Although the special oyster can be found throughout Northwestern Australia, the prized golden colored pearls are most common in the Philippines and Indonesia. Because of its standout qualities, such as size and rarity, the South Sea pearl is considered the most valuable pearl type.
Which type of pearl is best for you?
The rise of cultured pearls has allowed for more control over the pearl production process and final look of various pearl types. Recommending a single type of pearl can be difficult, as customer preferences are as diverse as the types of pearls available. Instead, when making your selection, envision about how you would like the pearl to look, and picture yourself wearing it. Do you want a pearl jewelry piece that’s less conventional? Then the Tahitian pearl may be for you. Or perhaps you’re after a more classic pearl earring – in this case, an Akoya pearl may be the one you’re looking for.
Love and Promise Jewelers offers a variety of pearl jewelry fit for you. Explore our collection today!
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