Different Types of Pearls Explained
We are often asked what is meant by the term ‘cultured pearls’: customers sometimes have the misconception that cultured pearls are not ‘real’. Apart from an extremely small (and very highly priced) percentage, all pearls available on the retail market are cultured pearls. Cultured pearls are real pearls grown by real mussels and oysters; all that is meant by the term ‘cultured pearl’ is that the process is initiated by man.
Despite all cultured pearls being ‘real’ pearls, there are many different varieties of cultured pearls and some are much more valuable than others. This blog post will explain the difference between them:
- Freshwater Pearls are cultured in farms, usually in China. They are formed in a mussel (the Hyriopsis Schlegeli) rather than an oyster. Mussels can produce more than one pearl at once, which is why freshwater pearls are usually less expensive than the other species of pearls.
- Freshwater pearls are usually found in white, peach and lavender colours; the most exquisite colour freshwater pearls can be seen in our Radiant Orchid collection.
- Freshwater pearls are not perfectly round and will be referred to as ‘semi-round’ when they are as close to round as possible. They are also found in rice, drop and button shapes.
- Freshwater pearls are usually found in sizes ranging from 2-12mm; however, sizes of 14-15mm are not unheard of.
- When pearls are referred to in conversation; it is usually Akoya pearls that people are talking about. They are formed in the Akoya Oyster off the coasts of Japan and China.
- Akoya pearls are white, with shades ranging from a very pale grey to a rich yellow. Naturally white or white/pink Akoya pearls are the most valuable.
- Akoya pearls are found in perfectly round or baroque shapes
- The Akoya Oyster is a fairly small variety of Oyster, so the size of the pearls it can produce range from 2-10mm, with larger sizes being of particular rarity.
Australian South Sea Pearls:
- The Pinctada Maxima Oyster is the largest mollusc of its kind and is found mainly off the Australian coasts: it produces what are known as ‘South Sea’ pearls. These pearls are very valuable as it is difficult to find South Sea pearls of gem quality.
- South Sea pearls are white; ranging in colour from cool silver to pale cream.
- South Sea pearls range in shape from round to drop and even baroques.
- South Sea pearls can be found in sizes from 9-18mm (occasionally even larger).
Tahitian South Sea Pearls:
- The Pincatada Margaritifera, more commonly known as the Black Lipped Oyster produces the only naturally black pearls which have become known as Tahitian pearls because they are usually found off the coast of Tahiti.
- Tahitian Pearls range in colour from greys to blacks, sometimes with peacock overtones.
- Tahitian pearls range in shape from round to drop and even baroques.
- Tahitian pearls can be found in sizes from 9-18mm (occasionally even larger).
Indonesian South Sea Pearls:
- These are produced by what is known as the ‘Indonesian’ or ‘Golden Lipped’ Oyster and are a very rich golden colour.
- Due to the difference in diet and warm waters these oyster produce pearls in colours ranging from White through to the deepest gold. It is these Golden Pearls that are perhaps the rarest and most valuable of all cultured pearls.
- Indonesian pearls range in shape from round to drop and even baroques.
- Although the Golden Lipped Oyster can produce pearls from 9-18mm, very few pearls are produced over 16mm with 14-16mm pearls fetching a premium.