Saltwater or Freshwater Cultured Pearls: What's the Difference?

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There are two main categories of cultured pearls: saltwater cultured pearls and freshwater cultured pearls. When shopping for pearls, it is important to understand the differences since saltwater and freshwater pearls vary greatly in price and luster.

Saltwater (Akoya) Pearls

-          Saltwater (Akoya) pearls come from oysters inhabiting the oceans of the world, predominantly Japan.

-          Considered the most beautiful and lustrous pearls in the world. Aloya pearls are prized for their perfect roundness and mirror-like luster.

-          Akoya pearls are the classic pearl. They are the traditional type of pearl most people think of brides wearing on their wedding day.

-          Akoya pearls are grown in the oysters and named after the oyster in which they are grown, whose scientific name is Pinctada fucata martensii.

-          Cultivated for quality, they are usually harvested one pearl per oyster; therefore they are rarer than their freshwater counterparts.

-          The Akoya oyster is not especially large, typically producing pearls ranging from 2-8mm and occasionally found in sizes up to 10mm.

-          Saltwater (Akoya) pearls are bead-nucleated which begins with a rounded, polished piece of mother-of-pearl shell which is embedded into the mollusk along with a piece of mantle tissue. Over time, the mollusk secretes a coating called nacre around the nucleus.

Freshwater Pearls

-          Grown primarily in man-made lakes and reservoirs in China.

-          Freshwater pearls are nucleated by inserting a small piece of mantle tissue from the mollusk between the mother-of-pearl linings of the host mollusk.

-          Grown in mussels called the Hyriopsis cumingi.

-          Produced in large quantities. Freshwater pearls can be cultivated to produce up to 50 pearls per mussel which makes them abundantly available.

-          Freshwater pearls, while attractive, typically do not achieve the same luster or roundness as saltwater pearls.

-          Pearls produced early on were mostly rice shaped. Later, potato shapes were produced and more recently near-round to round.

-          Freshwater pearls can be cultivated to produce larger sizes than saltwater. Today they can be found in sizes 12mm and larger.

If you are looking for a classic pearl, look to the Akoya pearls: round, creamy, lustrous with a deep rich inner glow, Akoya pearls are considered among the finest and most popular in the world. Add-A-Pearl uses Akoya pearls. But, if you are looking for affordable pearls, freshwater pearls are the gift of value of the pearl family.

Learn more: What's the Difference Between Natural and Cultured Pearls?

What Are Natural Pearls?