Created by a living creature over many years, each pearl is unique in its color, luster, size, and shape. Pearls are one of the most beautiful and surprising gemstones available, and they make enduring and memorable gifts. They have a timeless appeal, and they’re popular worldwide.
Buying pearls for the first time can sometimes be confusing, especially since you will be confronted by hundreds of different varieties at an enormous range of prices. If you’re not sure where to begin your pearl shopping journey, you may want to check out our Cultured Pearl Starter Necklace, which allows you to select your pearl size, chain style, metal type, and number of pearls.
Our Cultured Pearl Starter Necklace can be created with your choice of the finest-quality Japanese Akoya Cultured Pearl or genuine natural pearls, depending on your budget and preference. What makes every pearl variety unique? The two most important distinctions are the pearl’s habitat (whether it’s from saltwater or freshwater) and how the pearls have been grown: are they natural or cultivated? In this blog post, we’ll share the top nine pearl types and help you understand what makes each of them special, so you can be a more informed consumer.
Types of Saltwater Pearls
Saltwater pearls come from oysters and mussels in oceans, seas, gulfs and bays. They are usually high-quality and more expensive than freshwater pearls. Freshwater pearls are found in mollusks and rivers, lakes and ponds. They are generally more irregular and varied in shape than saltwater pearls. If you’d like to learn more about the origins of both natural and cultured saltwater pearls, then you’ll definitely want to read our blog post, “Where Do Pearls Come From? An Exploration of Exotic Pearl Origins”.
Akoya pearls are the preeminent cultured pearls. They are the pearls that the Mikimoto brand popularized. Prized by royalty and pearl connoisseurs for centuries, Akoya pearls have long been coveted for their perfectly round shape, richness, and deep luster. The natural body colors range from light pink to white to pale yellow, and include green and blue gray tones. Akoya pearls are normally associated with Japan, especially if they measure over 7 mm. China, Korea, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka all produce Akoya pearls in smaller sizes. Some of the most well-known and highly valuable pearls come from a group of marine bivalves called pearl oysters from the family Pinctada and Pteria. We use the finest-quality Japanese Akoya cultured pearls in our Cultured Pearl Starter Necklaces.
South Sea and Tahitian Pearls
These pearls are cultured in the large muscle Pinctada maxima and usually require a longer growing time in the shell than do Akoya pearls. They can be white with a rose or green tint, green, blue- gray, golden or pale yellow in color. The luster and light colored South Sea pearls tend to be less intense than the dark pearls. Vibrant, golden-colored South Sea pearls are very popular and command a high price as does the white rose color. South Sea pearls are the largest cultured pearls of all and - as their size increases - so does the price. Round pearls are the rarest and most expensive shape. Black Tahitian pearls from the black-lip mussel Pinctada margaritifera are the only natural black pearls that exist; all other black pearls are dyed. The black color can vary from silver to dark gray and may have pink and green overtones. Black pearls can look almost metallic.
Keshi are tiny pearls that form spontaneously when a much larger nucleated pearl is cultured in the Akoya oyster. Keshi is the Japanese name for “poppy”, referring to tiny natural seed pearls. Originally these natural seed pearls were found in Kobe in Japan, when harvesting wild Akoya oysters. As keshi grow without a nucleus they are in effect natural pearls. They have the same coloring as Akoya pearls. Keshi pearls always have good luster and often an unusual palette of colors like eggplant, vivid purple with green overtones, bronze, peacock with vivid green, and green with purple overtones, pistachio and silver-gray. Any unused Keshi are sold to India and China for medicinal and calcium content.
Types of Freshwater Pearls
Lake Biwa is Japan’s largest lake and was the first freshwater culturing site. Biwa pearls are noted for their good quality surface and nice luster. They don’t normally have a nucleus as the mussel won’t accept one, and - as a result - some bizarre shapes can occur. The colors range from creamy white to white-rose, salmon orange, dark wine red and violet. Many freshwater pearls on the market are called Biwa pearls, despite being cultivated in China. This is most likely done to impress or reassure customers, and to garner higher prices.
Chinese Freshwater Pearls
Chinese freshwater pearls are a popular type of cultured pearl. They are unique because they are nucleated with a small piece of mantle tissue from another oyster. There are over 350 species of freshwater mussels residing in lakes, rivers and streams. Several species have more recently become extinct due to water pollution and over-development of surrounding lands. However, the Chinese have managed to successfully produce an abundance especially of cultured freshwater pearls using the pearl mussel Hyriopsis cumingii providing an economic staple of the cultured pearl business. The colors are wide-ranging, but include rose, white, green-white, green-rose, salmon orange, wine red and violet.
Mabe pearls are cultured by gluing a half-bead nucleus against the inside of the shell. When the hemisphere pearl is covered in nacre, it is cut out. The nucleus is removed, and the hole is then filled. The pearl is then backed with mother-of-pearl. Because mabe pearls are constructed, they are not as durable as other types of pearls, and over time the nacre coating can either lift off, become damaged, or sometimes discolor. If a mabe has a rim around it, making it look like a fried egg, it is called a “blister mabe”.
These pearls grow attached to the inner surface of the shell rather than loose in the mantle. They have the same iridescent nacre as the inner surface of the shell, and the back is flat, without any pearly coating.
Seed pearls are small natural pearls that measure 2mm or less.
Now that you know more about the different types of pearls, you may feel more confident shopping our Add-A-Pearl Cultured Pearl Starter Necklace, which can be a meaningful gift for your daughter or a special jewelry gift for your loved one.