Types of cultured pearls
I have a passion for pearls and I want to share that passion with you. As a pearls specialist you can rest assured that I will use my experience and knowledge of pearls to bring you handmade and individually designed cultured pearl jewellery.
Pearls come in an almost bewildering number of varieties, shapes, sizes and colours as well as varying greatly in quality.
So what does this mean for you as a buyer?
I will always be honest in my description of pearls, not just you their size and colour but also in terms of their quality.
Pearls are not all created equal and as natural and organic gems even the best quality may have some blemish although with top-quality pearls this will be minuscule. Pearls aren't like gemstones that can be carefully cut and faceted to make them appear flawless, it is this individuality that gives pearls their unique character and beauty and it is also one way of spotting fake pearls masquerading as the real thing. Cultured pearls are made of the same material and grown in the same molluscs as wild pearls and the only way they can be differentiated is by using a microscope. Fishing oysters for wild pearls is not allowed so unless you are buying antique jewellery the pearls will be cultured and with the exception of Mikimoto (and smaller companies such as Charles Barron) who have their own pearl farms, no matter what the branding is on the jewellery all pearls come from the same pearl farms.
A word of warning. If you see adverts for "pearl parties" or for pearl containing oysters please please do not get involved or buy these. The oysters are not genuine pearl bearing ones and the pearls that are inserted into these are low quality Chinese freshwater pearls. With the parties in particular it is easy to get caught up in the excitement, bidding for an oyster but the pearls you will get together with the overpriced settings that they pressure you to buy alongside them are simply not worth the money.
It is the varying quality of pearls that means what may at first appear to be identical necklaces may have very different price tags, but this also means that whatever your budget a cultured pearl necklace is affordable especially if bought as a special birthday or anniversary gift.
My product descriptions include a description of the type and quality of pearls used as well as close-up pictures to help you make your choice.
As always, if you have any questions or wish to discuss a custom order with me and just send me an email to
Chinese freshwater pearls
An overview of different types of cultured pearls.
The majority of cultured pearls on sale today are Chinese freshwater cultured pearls. These pearls are grown in pearl bearing mussels rather than oysters but at their best their quality can rival that of Japanese Akoya pearls and Chinese pearl farmers are developing some of the most amazing and unique pearls, just do a search for Edison or flameball pearls to see what I mean.
Chinese freshwater cultured pearls range from nugget pearls, the smallest of which can be of lower quality through the amazing shapes of the Biwa pearls to top end highly lustrous round pearls. The type and quality of pearls will be reflected in the price between what appear to be similar designs. In my descriptions I will give you a fair description of the pearls used to help you make your choice.
Japanese Akoya Pearls
Japanese akoya pearls are the classic pearl, white, round and beautifully lustrous. They are farmed in salt water using the akoya oyster (Pinctada fucata) which is the smallest one used in pearl cultivation. Suitable areas around the coastline of Japan are limited and this together with the fact that each oyster will only produce one pearl at a time contributes towards the higher price along with their qualities which have already been mentioned. Another reason for the higher price is that not only is only one pearl grown at a time, only about 5-10% are deemed to be gem quality. The average size of an akoya pearl is approximately 7 mm although it has been possible to grow some ultra size of 10 mm diameter. While akoya pearls are generally more valuable than freshwater pearls they are third in value behind Tahitian and South Sea pearls.
Tahitian pearls are actually grown in Polynesia and are most famous for producing the famed black pearl. Although described as black the dark coloured Tahitian pearls are actually a dark green or blue with beautiful "oil slick" iridescent overtones. The oyster used to produce these pearls is large resulting in pearls which can be much larger than those typically produced by other pearl producing mollusks. Although the dark coloured Tahitian pearls are most famous ,today the other, lighter shades which are also produced appreciated too. Tahitian pearls typically come in four shapes, round, near round, baroque and ring or circle pearls.with each type appreciated for different reasons, the round and near round for their beautiful shape, and baroque and circle pearls for the greater play of overtones. The growing of Tahitian pearls is a complex and time-consuming process. It starts with the search for healthy oysters which are cleaned by removing barnacles from the surface of the shell before the process of culturing and growing the pearl can start. At regular intervals the oysters are taken out and carefully cleaned to ensure they stay in the best condition as this result in the best pearls. It also takes time for the oysters to produce the best quality and largest pearls and this typically happens with the third round of culturing. The rarity of the oysters themselves together with the time-consuming and skilful processes involved in farming, as well as the unique beauty of these pearls all contribute towards their value.
Because of this unscrupulous dealers will sometimes dye cheaper freshwater pearls and try to pass the most as Tahitian pearls. For this reason it is recommended that if you are buying a piece of Tahitian pearl jewellery you ask for proof. But Tahitian pearls that I stock come from Charles Barron, a well-respected British firm.
South Sea Pearls
South Sea pearls are the most sort after of all pearls. This is due to a number of factors including the fact they can grow to a very large size, up to 20 mm, the very limited area in which they can be successfully farmed and the slower rate at which they grow together with their beautiful luxurious lustre. White South Sea pearls are generally produced in Broome in Australia while those with a more golden colour are produced in the Philippines. The type of pearl producing oyster which grows these incredibly beautiful pearls is very delicate as well as rare and can only be successfully farmed in the areas where it is found naturally. Farmed oysters are valued and carefully looked after and are often bred by the pearl farmers who keep their breeding stock healthy by adding a few wild oysters with every breeding cycle. As with Tahitian pearls a lot of work is put into keeping the oysters healthy in order to produce the best pearls. Approximately 20% of South Sea pearls are rounds which means that a matched necklace of round South Sea pearls can cost thousands of pounds, and as the area in which the golden tone pearls can be farmed is smaller than that of the white coloured ones this makes them even more valuable. Although cultured in the same way as Tahitian and some freshwater pearls by using a tiny bead the nacre of the South Sea pearl is the thickest of all pearls and their unique soft lustre is due to the large aragonite platelets that form the pearl.