Different Types of Pearls – What Are They and Where Do They Come From

I’ve created this post so you can educate yourself on what the different types of commonly known pearls are, how they are formed, where they come from and how to tell real pearls from fake pearls.  

What’s the difference between Natural and Cultured Pearls?

Natural pearls are formed in the soft tissue mussel of oysters from something irritating making its way inside. Just like many life forms on earth have defense mechanisms, to keep them save from harm, so does the oyster. This animal starts to produce secretions, Nacre, to coat the irritation to make it smooth and more comfortable.

Cultured pearl are formed from human intervention. It’s really the same process for the oyster to produce a pearl this way. However there are a few key differences that occur to get a pearl from an oyster this way. The process begins by taking a shell bead nucleus, usually composed of concentric organic layers and calcium carbonate, then inserting it inside the oyster. The oyster then starts to produce secretion, nacre, to smooth out the bead.

Something I found interesting, natural pearls are very rare because it takes over 100,000 oysters to have enough pearls to make just one pearl necklace. Then trying to match like pearls together to string is ever so difficult because most pearls are not round or uniformed in size or color.

What’s the difference between Freshwater Pearls and Saltwater Pearls?

Freshwater pearls are usually found in the china lakes and rivers. These pearls are cleaner, rounder, more lustrous and are more affordable. They usually range from 5mm – 10mm however they can be as large as 13mm. 

The secretion, nacre, that freshwater oysters produce is thicker and different in composition than saltwater oysters, freshwater pearls are less glossy and lustrous.  

Saltwater pearls are created by oysters found in oceans such as Thailand, Australia, Indonesia and Tahiti. 

Japanese Akoya Pearls 

Akoya pearls are very spherical in shape and known for the luster. These pearls are produced from a small oyster called Pinctada Fucata off the shores of China and Japan. They usually range from 2mm – 10mm in size. Akoya pearls are most commonly worn by brides on their wedding day.

Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian pearls are also known as black south sea pearls and are marveled over their exotic colors and mirror like luster. Tahitian pearls come in hundreds of amazing exotic colors such as peacock green, silver green, blue and eggplant. These pearls are produced by the Pinctada Margaritifera Oyster which are only found in Tahiti and a few French Polynesian Island. 

Are They Real Pearls or Fake?

Real pearls are worth every penny because of their natural display of beauty unlike costume or imitation pearls. Fake pearls are usually made from glass, plastic or even fish scale imitations. Below are 5 pointers so you can tell if your holding natural or imitation pearls.

1. A natural pearl has finger print surface ridges where as fake pearls have bubble patterns surfaces when viewed under a microscope.  

2. A natural pearl has enriched, overtone color where as fake pearls are only one color and lack depth.

3. A natural pearl feels cold to the touch where as fake pearls do not.

4. When you rub a natural pearl across your teeth it feels gritty and rough where fake pearls feel smooth.

5. A natural pearl feels quite heavy in weight where as fake pearls feel very light. 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. Thank you for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day!