Pearl Types

Natural vs. Cultured Pearls

The term "natural" is given to those pearls formed inside a mollusk without intervention by people. The chances of someone coming across a perfectly rounded natural pearl are extremely slim, which is why most pearls on the market today are in fact "cultured" pearls. Cultured pearls are what happens when man steps in. Acting much like a chef with a recipe, a pearl farmer coaxes the process along by placing the proper ingredients, so to speak, into a mollusk to then naturally form a perfectly shaped pearl.

Freshwater vs. Saltwater Pearls

Basically, all cultured pearls can be listed in two categories: Freshwater Pearls and Saltwater Pearls. Freshwater pearls are grown primarily in man-made lakes and reservoirs in China. Saltwater pearls, which include Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea, are grown in bays, inlets and atolls in many places around the world. Saltwater pearls are considered more valuable than freshwater pearls, although rare and very high-quality freshwater pearls can be exceedingly valuable.

  • Fresh Water
  • Akoya
  • Tahitian
  • South Sea

Freshwater Pearls


Freshwater pearls are best known for their wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors, and their attractive prices. They are produced by the Hyriopsis cumingi, Hyriopsis schlegeli, and Cristaria plicata mussels, which live in lakes and rivers in China and Japan. Most of the Chinese freshwater pearl farming takes place within about 480 km (300 miles) of Shanghai. The mussels are grafted with pieces of mantle tissue, resulting in pearls of solid nacre. Each mussel is able to produce up to 32 pearls at a time, up to 16 on either valve.

Size: 3mm to 13mm
Shape: 2% round, near round or semi round; 60% oval, button or coin; 35% baroque or semi-baroque
Color: White, Peach, Purple
Luster: From excellent, good to fair
Surface: Range from clean, lightly blemished to moderately blemished
Nacre: Thick
Rarity: Common

Akoya Pearls


Akoya pearls are treasured for their perfect shape and reflective shine. They come from a small oyster known as the Pinctada fucata, or akoya. The saltwater Pinctada fucata oyster lives along the coasts of Japan and China. A bead is surgically implanted into the gonad of the oyster along with a small piece of mantle tissue. The oyster coats the bead with layer upon layer of beautiful nacre.

Size: 2mm to 10mm
Shape: 70%-80% round or near-round; 20%-30% baroque or semi-baroque
Color: White, Cream and some Yellow, Pink, Blue
Luster: From excellent, good to fair
Surface: Range from clean, lightly blemished to moderately blemished
Nacre: From thick, medium to thin
Rarity: Relatively rare

Tahitian Pearls


Tahitian pearls are the only pearls in the world that are naturally black. Rare, exotic, and luxurious, Tahitian pearls are produced by the Pinctada margaritifera oyster native to the island of Tahiti and the French Polynesian islands. A pearl is a Tahitian pearl only if it is cultured in Polynesia.

Size: 8mm to 18mm
Shape: 40% round or near-round; 20% oval, button or drop; 40% baroque or semi-baroque
Color: Black, Grey, Green, Blue, Peacock, Aborigine and Pistachio
Luster: From excellent, good to fair
Surface: Range from clean, lightly blemished, moderately blemished and heavily blemished
Nacre: Thick
Rarity: Very rare

South Sea Pearls


South Sea pearls are among the rarest and most valuable pearls in the world. These valuable pearls are produced by the famous gold-lip or silver-lip variety of the Pinctada maxima pearls oyster, along the coasts of Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. A single strand of these magnificent gems can take many years of harvests to assemble, as each pearl must be painstakingly matched for size, roundness, color, and quality.

Size: 9mm to 18mm
Shape: 10% to 30% round or near round; 40% to 60% oval, button or drop; 20% to 40% baroque or semi-baroque
Color: White, Cream, Silver, Yellow (Gold), and Blue
Luster: From excellent, good to fair
Surface: Range from clean to lightly blemished
Nacre: Thick
Rarity: Extremely rare