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    June 20, 2024 6 min read


    Pearls are a natural treasure and often handed down from mother to daughter.

    Natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries. Because of this, pearl has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, admirable and valuable. Today, pearls can be worn in both casual and formal settings and are a favorite gemstone for brides the world over.

    Pearls are extremely unique, largely due to the fact that they are the only gem material formed within a living creature. Unlike diamonds and other gemstones, pearls require no cutting or polishing before use and are simply stunning the way they naturally form. Prized for their beauty and popularity, people eventually found a way to culture – or farm-raise – pearls, adding to the availability, shapes and colors that can be found in pearl jewelry and accessories today.


    Pearls are formed when irritants (like sand, for instance) find their way into the shell of a mollusk. In reaction, the mollusk begins to produce layers of nacre around the irritant. In natural pearls, the irritant generally comes from the water it's surrounded by, while in cultured pearls, a pearl farmer will insert a piece of tissue to get the process started. Pearls can be found in both freshwater and saltwater — additionally, various mollusks can produce different-looking pearls.


    A wild, natural pearl is quite rare because most of them have already been harvested, so if you find one, hold on to it!

    Traditionally, most natural pearls were found in the Persian Gulf. As the name implies, natural pearls are formed in the wild inside freshwater mussels or saltwater oysters without human interference. These pearls come in a variety of shapes, and perfectly round ones are the rarest.

    The difference between natural and cultured pearls is that cultured pearls can exhibit different color properties and have a solid center instead of concentric growth rings. Cultured pearls are also generally more uniform in shape and size.


    You are probably familiar with cultured pearls, which can be raised in either freshwater or saltwater. Mollusks are farm-raised and once they are old enough, a technician will implant a mother-of-pearl bead and return the mollusks to the water where they are cared for while the pearls are allowed to form.

    As with any crop, quality can vary among the harvested pearls and some mollusks will not produce a pearl. Over ten thousand pearls may need to be sorted through before a single strand of uniformed pearls can be matched.

    Cultured pearls are typically a uniform shape and size but can be dyed any color. There are 4 distinct types of cultured pearls. They are Akoya (saltwater), Freshwater, South Sea and Tahitian. Let’s learn a bit more about these types of cultured pearls.


    This cultured pearl is grown in Chinese and Japanese waters. They are typically around 2mm, but in some rare cases can be as large as 10mm. The finest Akoya pearls come from Japanese pearl farms. They are round, and usually cream or white colored and rose overtones.

    Akoyas were originally imported to the US by Mikimoto, however the quality has fallen off due to the primary source of the pearls being moved to China.


    South Sea pearls stand out from other pearls due to their ability to grow larger than other types of cultured pearls. They are produced in the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia and range in size from 9mm to 20mm. They can be cream, white, or deep honey gold with a soft, luxurious reflection and are among the rarest and most valuable of pearls.


    Tahitian pearls are farmed in French Polynesia, not exclusively in Tahiti as the name suggests. Collectively known as “black pearls,” they come in a spectrum of natural colors from dark black (which comes from the oyster’s black lips) and gray, purple, peacock or green to a light creamy white. They typically range in size from 7mm to 18mm in diameter. Larger pearls exist but anything beyond 18mm is extremely rare.


    China and the US are the leading producers of freshwater pearls which are generally grown in rivers, lakes and ponds. Freshwater pearls can be produced in varying shapes and a range of pastel colors, although many of them are white and generally resemble the size and shape of the Akoya Pearl. They are slightly less round and smaller in size than other varieties of saltwater pearls.



    Keshi pearls are not grown inside a mollusk; they are actually a byproduct of pearl cultivation. After debris enters an oyster during the harvesting process, the oyster encloses the debris with nacre, thereby producing Keshi pearls. They are 100% pearl – all nacre and no nucleus.

    In Japanese, Keshi means “poppy seed,” which perfectly describes these smaller-than-average, seed-sized pearls. Some additional shapes for Keshi pearls include flat, rectangle, oval, or off-round (seemingly round but actually slightly flat or oval). These pearls can be found in different colors, such as white, rose, grey, black, and many more.




    Opulent stick pearls are formed inside cultured freshwater mussels in the same way traditional cultured pearls are formed. Their shimmering splendor and eco-chic shape bring fresh style to classic pearls.


    A seed pearl is a small natural pearl, formed in either a saltwater oyster or freshwater mussel, that is usually less than 2mm in diameter. Note that Keshi pearls can be seed pearls, but not all seed pearls are Keshi pearls.



    Pearls come in several basic shapes. From perfect rounds to buttons and baroques, the world of cultured pearls offers a range of shapes to satisfy every taste and budget.

    1. Round

    Perfectly round pearls are the rarest and most valuable shape. Perfectly Round pearls that can roll smoothly in all directions are called “Eight Way Rollers”. Akoya pearls are most known for their perfect round shapes.

    2. Semi-Round

    Used for necklaces or in pieces where the pearl can be disguised to look more rounded.

    3. Button

    Used in pendants or earrings where the flat back side of the pearl can be covered so it looks like a rounder larger pearl. These flattened round pearls resemble a button or disk and may also be called coin pearls if flattened on both sides. They are uniform in shape and size and are often used as spacers in necklaces.

    4. Coin

    Similar to a button pearl, coin pearls are flat-shaped on both sides and can be worn casually during the day and add a touch of individual glamour to the evening. Shaped as flat buttons or coins, the best quality coin pearls will shimmer with a beautiful pearlescence.

    5. Drop

    Often used in pendants, earrings or as the focal point of a necklace.

    6. Pear

    Also often used in pendants, earrings or as the focal point of a necklace.

    7. Oval

    Once again, often used in pendants, earrings or as the focal point of a necklace. Also known as rice pearls, these can form when two pearls grow together in the same mollusk.

    8. Baroque

    Valued for their unique and fascinating shapes. Variety is the name of the game with baroque pearls, which account for nearly 40-50% of any pearl harvest. They can be symmetrical or totally free form. The options are endless and endlessly entertaining, so if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind pearl, baroques are perfect for you.

    9. Ringed or Circled

    These pearls have concentric ridges along the middle of the pearl.

    10. Stick

    Long, flat, and narrow, like a stick. Unique to freshwater pearls is the stick or bar shaped pearl, which is a radical departure for a cultured pearl shape and a new way of reimagining pearls.


    The most common color for pearls is white, cream, pink, purple, but they also come in colors such as champagne, chocolate, blue, gold, silver and lavender. White and black pearls are the most popular. Pearls also have tints or undertones that can make them have a glow. For example, a pearl can look white but when studied and light is reflected off of it, it can give off a hue of pink, green or blue.


    As one of the world’s only organic gemstones, pearls are rather delicate. Taking proper care of your pearls is an essential aspect of ensuring your investment lasts a lifetime. Many personal hygiene products like hand sanitizer or beauty products such as hairspray and perfume can damage the beauty and luster of a peal. You should always invest in a pearl care kit for your pearl jewelry.

    Real pearls are hard on the outside – they don’t feel soft and smooth because of their natural rigidity and nacre core. However, pearl is ranked 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, which means it's very soft and easily scratched or abraded. But with reasonable care, pearl jewelry can be a lasting treasure.

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