Pearls – Part II Kinds of Pearls

Pearls – Part II Kinds of Pearls

Previously, we did a little background on where pearls come from. Today, we will talk about Kinds of Pearls.

Natural pearls are so rare and expensive that one would have to be actively looking for them to find them. We can safely assume that almost all the pearls we encounter, unless otherwise specified, are cultured. We can’t tell the difference between a natural and a cultured pearl just by looking. Special equipment is needed to determine whether a pearl is natural or cultured. This is why a GIA or other report on the origin of a pearl is important?

What is the difference between a natural and a cultured pearl? Firstly, remember that both are real pearls. The difference is that the cultured pearl forms around a bead, introduced to the mollusk by human technology. If we take an x-ray, we may actually see the bead inside the pearl.


I took a large pearl along to my last appointment with the dentist and asked him to x-ray it. As you can see in the picture below, there is a clear round outline of a bead inside the pearl. This indicates that it is a cultured pearl, albeit a baroque shape.


x-ray1. x-ray cultured pearl


Farming Cultured Pearls.

Pearls are grown on farms. They may be tiny mom and pop businesses. When conditions change, they switch right back to farming cabbage and chickens. This is especially true of fresh water pearl farming in China. On the other hand, there are massive organizations that not only grow the pearls, but then continue the pearl business through jewelry production to retail selling.

While cultured pearl production is becoming increasingly scientific, there is still a great deal that is not known. Many pearl producers are highly secretive about the methods they use to tweak colors, improve luster or speed up a process. Up to the 1960's it was mainly the Japanese who were involved in cultured pearl production, but since the 1970's, countries other than Japan are increasingly involved in growing pearls. Often Japanese technicians help jump start these operations, but each has taken on its own peculiar characteristics and each produces entirely different kinds of pearls, the products of entirely different examples of the mollusks used to farm them.

Ironically, Mikimoto, the company that is most associated with the cultured pearl has stopped producing their own pearls and is now exclusively concentrate on their retail business of selling them.


AKOYA these are what we first think of when we think of a pearl necklace. Our Mom's wore these in the 1960's. They were the first pearls to be cultured by Mikimoto and for more than half a century, they dominated the cultured pearl trade.


#5702 Mikimoto Akoya Pearl Necklace. Mikimoto pearl necklace


FRESH WATER PEARLS - farmed mainly in China and of lesser value and quality. While they were originally tiny and not round in shape, the Chinese have successfully grown them bigger and rounder. Today, top quality Chinese fresh water pearls can rival Akoya pearls and they are getting bigger and better.


SOUTH Sea Culture Pearls: the biggest pearls of them all, have a wonderful soft luster. They are usually found in shades of white and gold. They can command extremely high prices, especially the really big, round pearls.


#5492 South Sea Cultured Pearl and Diamond Earrings. South Sea Pearl earrings


Tahiti Black Pearls. Actually, these pearls are not produced in Tahiti and are not quite black. They are mainly produced in the French Polynesian islands and are a range of dark greyish colors. They are also large and considered the most exotic of all pearls.

#5905 Tahitian Pearl earrings. Tahitian pearls

Once again, to remind you as a parting shot, that cultured pearls are real, if not entirely naturally derived. There are ‘fake’ or imitation pearls, entirely made by human technology.


Next time we will discuss what to look for when buying pearls. What characterizes a good / indifferent pearl?

Questions: Please email 

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