What’s the Difference Between Pearls? 

What is a pearl?

A pearl is a gemstone that is grown rather than mined. Instead of coming from the earth’s wealth, it is born in a water world inside of the lowly oyster. Without the need for cutting, shaping,  or polishing, these gems have been treasured for centuries. There are two types of pearls: natural and cultured. The life of a pearl in either type begins as an irritant in the oyster’s soft body where it cannot be expelled. To protect itself, the oyster secretes a smooth, hard crystalline substance called nacre. As layer upon layer of nacre is deposited around it, it grows into the beautiful gemstone we call a pearl.

What’s the difference between freshwater and saltwater pearls?

As the name implies, freshwater pearls are grown in fresh water, mostly in man-made lakes and reservoirs in China. Saltwater pearls are harvested from oysters in bays, inlets, and atolls from around the world. The rarity of saltwater pearls makes them more expensive, but freshwater pearls can be among the most beautiful because of their soft, pastel and white colors and their large range of shapes and sizes. In addition, some freshwater pearls are extremely rare and very high-quality.

What determines a pearl’s value?

The value of a pearl is based upon its luster, surface, shape, and color. Since it is the only organic gemstone, each one will be different than all others. So purchasing a string of pearls that match means that great care has gone into selecting every one to coordinate with all the rest.

What shapes do pearls come in?

The shape of a pearl contributes quite a bit to its value. Those that are symmetrical and round are the most valuable, but baroque shapes are unique and interesting, and many people prefer their unusual forms over the more expensive round pearls. There are also pearls that are not quite round but still symmetrical. These include shapes such as the drop and the oval.

Four varieties of pearls

There are four basic varieties of pearls in an endless variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. Freshwater pearls are the most affordable pearls sold today. They are known for baroque shapes and muted colors with a soft luster.  They come in perfectly round to free-form baroque and in sizes from 5mm to 12mm.

Tahitian pearls come from French Polynesia and are the only naturally dark pearls. Although they are generally referred to as black, they actually come in an array of exotic colors. The round shape is very rare in Tahitian pearls, but other fun shapes are quite common. They range in size from 8mm to 15mm, measured perpendicularly to the drilled hole.

The “classic pearl” is found in the waters of Japan. The Akoya pearl is usually perfectly round and has a sharp, reflective luster. Unusual shapes like baroque are rare in Akoya pearls. When you think of a classic string of white pearls, chances are you are thinking of the Akoya.

From the South Sea, primarily in Australia, the Philippines, and Indonesia come the highly unusual South Sea pearls. The largest saltwater pearls grown today, they can be from 8mm to 14mm. Perfectly round South Sea pearls are rare, with drops, baroque and ovals being more common. They range in color from white to gold.

Taking care of your pearls

Unlike gemstones mined from the ground, the organic pearl gemstone is actually quite delicate. Avoid getting personal care products like perfume or hairspray on them, as their luster and beauty will be severely damaged. If you take good care of your pearls, they will last you a lifetime.

See our collection of exquisite Pearl Pendants, too.

Category: Pearl Jewelry

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