Types of Pearls

Pearls are one of the most alluring and astounding gemstones or beads available in the market. It is evident that pearls have a timeless appeal to them; they are lustrous, enduring, and have worldwide popularity. Each pearl has a unique color, luster, size, and shape, making it extremely precious. Natural pearls are also termed as “a gift from heaven.”

Over many years, pearls were only created naturally in seas by oysters. But nowadays, there are many kinds of peals available, varying from origin to price. Pearls come from hundreds of different varieties, along with a massive range of prices. This is why buying them for the first time can be daunting if you are not familiar with them.

In a world where there are many counterfeits, one can easily be fooled by fake pearls. The high-quality, natural pearls available in the market are known as cultured or farmed pearls. They are most desirable in fine jewelry making. Saltwater cultured pearls are the most expensive type available in the market.

The two main types of pearls are based on origin, i.e., saltwater pearls and freshwater pearls. Other types are included based on their growing method, i.e., natural pearl or cultivated pearl.

What are Cultured Pearls?

These pearls are formed in farmed pearl oysters or freshwater mussels. Rather than being in their natural habitat, these pearls are cared for in an optimum environment. They are mostly cultivated in freshwater or seawater farms, where an artificial implant, commonly known as an irritant, is inserted, which helps in the formation of a pearl.

Only a tiny number of these oysters and mussels can produce pearls, making them super rare. The pearl-producing irritant is mainly inserted in the mantle. When the protective membrane of the organism is irritated, the protection mechanism is activated, and it coats the irritant with layers of calcium carbonate, called nacre.

This process gives the pearl a natural iridescence and luster, which is visible even when the shell is closed.

Difference between a Natural and Cultured Pearl

A natural pearl is mainly extracted from an oyster, mussel, or mollusk living under the sea. The creation of a natural pearl by forming the calcium carbonate coating is stimulated by external parasites or invaders, without the use of artificial irritants. So, natural pearls are found occurring in wild organisms without any intervention. These pearls widely differ in shapes and sizes.

On the other hand, a cultured pearl uses an irritant or other chemicals to stimulate calcium carbonate coating. This type of pearl has a specific size, shape, and appearance. Uniformly-sized pearls are achieved from this cultivation method.

If natural and cultured pearlsare compared by slicing them apart, the natural pearl will have a visible site of irritation caused by the parasite, and thick amounts of calcium carbonate will be deposited. On the other hand, in an artificial pearl, most space is occupied by the artificial irritant, and multiple thin layers of nacre will be deposited around it.

Types of Saltwater Pearls

The main origin of seawater pearls is from the oysters and mussels living in the ocean, bay, or gulfs. They are of top-notch quality and usually more costly when compared to freshwater pearls. These saltwater pearls are hard to locate and extremely rare as well. The main types of saltwater pearls include the following:

1. Akoya Pearls

Dark green Akoya pearls

Akoya pearls are probably the rarest and expensive pearls on the market. They are also known to be “preeminent cultured pearls” and a symbol of royalty for many decades. These pearls have a perfectly round or spherical shape and are blindingly lustrous. They have a deep and rich color, which goes from baby pink to white and then pale yellow. Depending on the light and reflection, some blue and green hues can be seen in these pearls.

Akoya pearls that are 7mm in size are closely related to Japan; they are the face of the famous brand “Mikimoto.” Other Asian countries produce these pearls too, but they are smaller in size.


2. South Sea Pearls

South sea pearls mainly originate from large mussels and require a long period to form inside the shell. They are lustrous and mainly white that shifts from rose to blue-green or gray; tints of gold and pale yellow can also be seen. The rose and gold color of these pearls are high in demand. Because of their large size, they are usually expensive and cultivated more often.

South sea pearls are rare. They are hardly in a rounded shape, and to obtain a perfectly round one will cost you a lot of money.

3. Tahitian Pearls

Mary, Queen of Scots wearing a rope of black pearls

Also known as Black Pearls, these pearls are obtained from a specie of large mussels known as the black-lip muscle and have a metallic appearance. They are the only naturally dark-colored pearls to exist, but the color varies from silver to gray with pink and green overtones.

4. Keshi Pearls

Necklace of flat Chinese freshwater Keshi pearls

These small lustrous pearls are naturally/simultaneously created when larger pearls are being formed inside the shell. In Japanese, Keshi refers to poppy seeds, which means that these pearls are as tiny as seeds. They have a similar color to Akoya pearls with tints that are purple and violet, alongside peacock colors like green and bronze.

Types of Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are found in many mollusks in rivers, lakes, and ponds. They are irregular or non-spherical in shape and not as lustrous as saltwater pearls.

Biwa Pearls

View of Lake Biwa from Kitahira-Tōge Pass

Biwa pearls are sourced from Lake Biwa in Japan. This lake was the first freshwater pearl collecting site, and the pearls produced from this lake have excellent quality and luster. The pearls are irregular in shape, and the colors range from cream, white, and rose to salmon-orange, red, and violet. Many Chinese pearls are sold in the market as Biwa pearls just to obtain a higher price.

Chinese Pearls

These are the most popular type of freshwater pearls that are often cultured using a piece of mantle tissue from another oyster as an irritant. They vary in color from white-green and rose-green to salmon-orange and wine-red. Many species of mussels that produce Chinese pearls have become extinct due to water pollution and the development of land. But, many pearl farmers have started to use artificial products to produce these pearls successfully.

Mabe Pearls

These pearls are cultured or constructed by gluing an amateur nucleus inside the shell, and when it is completely deposited with nacre, the pearl is cut out. After taking it out, the nucleus is removed, and the pearl is artificially filled with materials and inserted back in the oyster or mussel. They are not durable and extremely fragile, and the calcium coating wears off with time. Mabe pearls are generally avoided because they discolor.

Some Mabe pearls are semi-circular in shape and are fancied by women for their big size and easy wear. They can be worn flat against the skin without bulging out like round pearls.

Blister and Seed Pearls

Blister pearls grow separately along the inner surface of the shell. It is attached rather than falling loose. They have little iridescence, but one side of the pearl remains uncoated with nacre. Seed pearls are tiny, about 2mm or less in size.

Fake Pearls

Shell Pearls

Shell Pearls

These pearls are artificially created in a laboratory using the shell from a mother-of-pearl’s inner surface and coated with nacre afterward. They are made from heavy-duty materials, which gives them a realistic weight. The manufacturing process gives them various colors like pink, purple, and creamy-white; the color does not fade with time. They are uniformly shaped and very smooth, which gives off the fakeness.

Majorica Pearls

Majorica Pearls

Majorca pearls are also manufactured in a laboratory, and the center of these pearls is made of glass. The glass bead is coated with nacre. The weight, feel, and appearance of these pearls are very similar to real pearls. They are flawless, high-quality fake pearls.

Final Words

Pearls are the most eye-catching and luxurious jewelry of all time. In recent years, many types of pearls have been discovered, which makes it harder to choose and spot a real one. On the other hand, the variety of choices is extravagant, which means that anyone can afford to buy some type of pearl. We hope this article helps you get a better understanding of the types of pearls.