Shop Smartly With a Guide to Different Types of Pearls.
Written by the staff of Pearl Classic
Pearl jewelry has been for years, one of the most treasured and coveted personal items a person can have. Its simplicity and sheen truly makes it a unique jewel that marks the sign of good taste and wealth. When we think of a pearl, generally we think of a small white sphere. What we don’t think about is the many different types and colors of pearls available. Different types of pearls come in not only different colors, but also shapes, nacre, luster and with different surfaces. Knowing each type and their differences can help you gain an understanding of pearls and help you make the best choice in pearl jewelry that fits your specific needs and even your pocketbook.
The most common pearl most people are familiar with are Freshwater Pearls. Freshwater Pearls are exactly what they sound like. They come from mussels located in freshwater lakes and rivers. Today, China is the leading exporter of Freshwater Pearls, with the majority of pearl farming taking place about 300 miles outside of Shanghai. Recently, however, Chinese pearl farmers have switched their emphasis from the quantity of Freshwater Pearls to the quality. This ensures that the pearls exported are of the best conditions and beauty.
Freshwater Pearls range in size from 4mm to 11mm. The majority is of oval, button and coin shape. Unlike saltwater pearls, they are not quite a perfect circle. Colors range from white, cream, gold, peach, pink, and purple. Some may even have a rose and/or a green over tone to it. Freshwater Pearls tend not to have the same intense luster by comparison to Akoya Pearls, but still have an excellent sheen to them. This and the general oval shapes they come in, tends to make Freshwater Pearl jewelry less expensive than other types, and thus making them very popular. Freshwater Pearls do have a thicker nacre, however, which makes them more durable against chipping and general wear and tear.
Akoya Pearls are considered to have the best luster of all the types of pearls. Saltwater pearls, these derive from the Akoya oyster, which is the smallest of the pearl oysters. Therefore, Akoya Pearls tend to be the smallest of pearls. Sizes range from 2mm to 10 mm, but on average, you will find an Akoya Pearl that is 6mm to 7mm. Harvested primarily in Japan and China today, cultured Akoya’s were actually introduced early in the 20th century.
Akoya Pearls are closest to being a perfect sphere compared to other pearls. On average, they are 70% to 80% round or near-round. The rest tend to be baroque or semi-baroque. The surface of an Akoya ranges from a clean surface to lightly or moderately blemished, while the nacre can be thick, medium, or thin. Again, the thicker the nacre of the pearl, the more durable it will be. Akoya’s also range in a variety of natural colors including white, cream, some yellow, pink, and blue. Some may even have a rose or green overtone as well.
Tahitian Pearls were first introduced internationally quite recently in the mid-1970’s. Cultivated from black lipped oysters, it is important to know that a pearl is a Tahitian Pearl only if it is cultured in Polynesia. Black lipped oysters tend to be large, with some weighing as much as 10 pounds! So their pearls also can be abnormally large as well. However, on average, Tahitian Pearls are generally 9 to 10 mm and can span anywhere from 8 to 14mm. Tahitian Pearls generally appear black, which some are. However most are a deep grey or green color that appears to be black. Other colors also include blue, peacock, aubergine and pistachio. The luster of the pearl can be quite beautiful from the dark shades of colors present in Tahitian Pearls. The shape of the pearl is split between mostly round or near-round and baroque or semi-baroque. The last 20% of average pearls generally have an oval, button or drop shape to them. With the dark colors, Tahitian Pearls also tend to have a variety of surface types; with clean, lightly, moderately or heavily blemished. So depending on the surface, this will affect the quality and pricing of your Tahitian Pearl jewelry. These types also come with a thick nacre, making them strong against nicks and other wear and tear.
Lastly, we have South Sea Pearls. South Sea Pearls derive from anywhere on the coasts of Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Generally, 60% of your South Sea Pearls will come from Australia. However, those that are more creamy or yellow are generally produced in Indonesia. Today, South Sea Pearls are considered to be the most cultivated type of pearl on the market.
Traditionally, South Sea Pearls are larger, ranging in size from 9mm to 18mm. On average, however, you will find a pearl about 13mm. The shape of it tends to be oval, button, or drop shaped 40 to 60% of the time. However, you can find a variety of baroque or round pearls as well. South Sea Pearl jewelry tends to be a little pricier because of its unique characteristics. The luster of the pearl tends to look more satiny and has a distinct shine to it. The surface of the pearl is also quite naturally good, with a range from clean to lightly blemished. In addition, South Sea Pearls come in colors that are not common in other types of pearls, which include gold, white, and silver. The golden hues are especially exquisite with the natural satin finish of the pearl. You can also find South Sea Pearls in blues, creams, with possible overtones of rose or green. The nacre of the pearl also tends to be much thicker than other types of pearls as well, making it quite durable.
All four of these pearls have their positives and differences. Knowing what makes each distinct and special will help you make a knowledgeable decision when selecting your own pearl jewelry. You can ask the right questions, make the right choices, and hopefully select an exquisite piece of authentic pearl jewelry that you will enjoy and care for, for years to come.