Know The Types of Cultured Pearls

pearl typesWhen buying Pearls, the customer is presented with terminology they are not always familiar with. Akoya, Freshwater, Tahitian, South Sea… What do all these mean? In order to make the best decision when buying pearls, it is important to know the differences between these type of pearls and why some are more expensive than others.

Akoya Pearls

Japanese pearls are probably the most well known name of a pearl type from the Akoya oyster. Most Akoya pearls are still produced in Japan but now some are also grown on an increasing scale in China and India.

They are the most popular cultured pearls in the world for their roundness beauty and appealing high luster. No other type of pearls can match the luminous luster of high quality Akoya pearls.

The most desirable color is white with pink overtones because it flatters a wide range of skin tones. The Akoya pearls are not so large, averaging between 2mm and 10mm. You may notice that the Akoya looks very similar to the Freshwater pearl. When compared side-by-side, the difference is clear. Besides being more expensive, Akoya pearls are on average larger, smoother, rounder, and more lustrous than Freshwater pearls.

Freshwater cultured Pearls

Freshwater cultured pearls come from freshwater mussels produced in China, Japan, and the United States. Freshwater cultured Pearls are grown in fresh waters. They have many shapes: round, nearly round and off round. Common color for freshwater pearls is white, pink, peach, peacock, and black.

The Freshwater pearl looks remarkably similar to the Akoya pearl, but Freshwater pearls are available for almost 1/5 the price of Akoya pearls because they are generally smaller, less symmetrical, and not as well matched when strung on a strand.

South Sea Pearls

South Sea Pearls are primarily cultured in the waters of Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The South Sea Pearls are cultured in the silver or gold-lipped pearl oyster and the color of the South Sea Pearls are usually white or silver colored, but they can also come in shades of yellow or blue-gray with pink or green overtones.

The natural golden color is considered to be the rarest of all pearls. South Sea pearls are the largest in the world, most of them range from 10mm to 15mm. South Sea pearls have very strong and healthy nacreous coating, therefore they are considered noble pearls. Because of the rarity and sensitivity of this type of oyster, cultivation of these pearls is much more difficult, making them more expensive.

Tahitian Pearls

Sometimes referred to as Black South Sea Pearls, ‘Tahitian pearls’ are cultured in areas stretching from the Cook Islands, eastward through Tahiti to the Tuamotu Archipelago and the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia. Tahitian Pearls grow in large black-lipped oysters in salt waters of Tahiti.

The natural black color is particularly famous. Common colors are black, gray, blue and peacock green. Perfectly round tahitian pearls with nearly flawless surface and remarkable luster are considered the highest quality. Other varieties of pearls may be dyed and called "black" pearls, but real, natural black pearls are those taken from black-lipped oysters.

Pearl Origin Classifications:

Natural Pearls

Natural pearls are formed when an accidental intruder enters a mollusk’s shell and continuous layers of nacre grow like onion skins around the particle.

Natural pearls vary in shape depending on the shape of the piece being coated. Natural pearls have always been considered rare and are quite expensive. They are usually sold by carat weight. Most natural pearls on today’s market are vintage pearls.

Cultured Pearls

Like natural pearls, cultured pearls grow inside of a mollusk, but with human intervention. A shell is carefully opened and an object is inserted. Shapes of objects vary, depending on the final shape of pearl that’s desired.

Over time the object becomes coated with layers of nacre. The depth of the nacre coating depends on the type of mollusk involved, the water it lives in, and how long the intruder is left in place before being harvested. As nacre thickness increases, so does the quality and durability of the cultured pearl.

Saltwater Pearls

Saltwater pearls originate within a saltwater mollusk. Saltwater pearls can be either natural or cultured.

Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls grow inside of a freshwater mollusk, one that lives in a river or a lake.

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