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Model Wearing Akoya Pearl Necklace

Pearls

Explore how pearls are formed and learn about quality factors such as color, shape, and luster.

What are pearls?

Pearls are gemstones that grow within mollusks like oysters. They form when an irritant, such as sand or a piece of debris, enters the mollusk's soft tissue. To protect itself, the mollusk produces a substance called nacre that coats the irritant layer by layer, eventually forming a pearl.

Where do pearls come from?

Pearls come from oysters, mussels, and other mollusks. Saltwater pearls, harvested mainly from oysters, include popular varieties like Akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian pearls. Freshwater pearls are cultivated in mussels in freshwater bodies, providing a diverse range of colors and shapes.

How are pearls made?

Natural pearls are very rare and occur organically in nature without any human interference. In contrast, cultured pearls are meticulously cultivated through a careful process that starts with inserting a shell bead into a mollusk. This prompts the natural process—nacre is produced and surrounds the bead, eventually resulting in the formation of a pearl.

Assortment of pearl earrings.

Types of Pearls

Natural Pearls 

Rare and valuable, natural pearls are formed spontaneously in the wild, making each pearl unique in size, shape, and color. 

Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls are created through the careful process of implanting a shell bead into the mollusk, stimulating the nacre deposition around it to form a pearl. 

  • Akoya Cultured Pearls: Cultivated primarily in Japan and China, Akoya pearls are prized for their high luster, round shape, and minimal imperfections. 
  • South Sea Cultured Pearls: Sourced in the South Pacific, these pearls are known for their large sizes, white to golden hues, and exquisite luster. 
  • Tahitian Cultured Pearls: Cultivated in French Polynesia, Tahitian pearls are distinctive for their exotic shades, and can range from white and black to iridescent green, silver, or dark purple. 
  • Freshwater Cultured Pearls: Grown in freshwater mussels, freshwater pearls come in a variety of colors and shapes. 

Imitation Pearls

Also known as simulated or faux pearls, imitation pearls are man-made from coral, mother of pearl, plastic or glass to mimic the appearance of genuine pearls but lack the nacre layer of natural or cultured pearls. Imitation pearls and cultured pearls are not the same.

Model wearing variety of pearl and diamond bracelets.

Freshwater vs. Saltwater Pearls

Saltwater pearls originate from oysters in marine environments and exhibit higher luster and larger sizes compared to freshwater pearls, which are cultivated in mussels in non-saline water bodies.

Assortment of pearl earrings, pearl bracelet, and gold chain necklace.

Pearl Meaning

Pearls symbolize purity, innocence, and wisdom, making them popular choices for bridal jewelry and meaningful gifts to convey love, protection, and good fortune. Pearl, alongside alexandrite, is also the birthstone for June

Pearl Colors

Pearls display a diverse range of colors. Common colors include white, cream, pink, lavender, black, gold, and blue.

Pearl Shapes

  • Round: Natural, round pearls are considered the most valuable shape, prized for their symmetry and spherical nature. 
  • Off-Round: Slightly elongated or flattened, off-round pearls are still desirable for their luster and smooth surfaces. 
  • Semi-Baroque: Irregular in shape but with distinct features that are visually appealing, semi-baroque pearls offer unique designs for jewelry.
  • Baroque: Highly irregular and asymmetrical in shape, baroque pearls showcase individualistic beauty, making each pearl distinct in appearance.
Model wearing assortment of pearl earrings and fashion rings.

Pearl Properties

Hardness

2.5 to 4.0  

Mineral

Pearls are primarily composed of calcium carbonate in the crystalline form of aragonite, which gives them their unique structure and iridescent sheen. 

Refractive Index

The refractive index of pearls ranges between 1.52 and 1.69.

Gold Pearl Necklace

Pearl Grades & Quality Factors

Pearls are graded based on specific quality factors that determine their value:


Luster

The intensity and quality of light reflection on the pearl's surface, with high luster indicating a superior quality pearl.


Surface Quality

The presence of blemishes, spots, or imperfections on the pearl's surface, affecting its visual appeal and overall value.


Shape

The symmetry, roundness, and uniformity of the pearl's shape, with natural round pearls being highly desired and baroque pearls valued for their unique shapes.


Color

The hue, overtone, and saturation of the pearl's color, ranging from traditional white and cream to rare shades like pink, blue, or black.


Nacre Thickness

The thickness and quality of the nacre layers on the pearl's surface, contributing to its durability, luster, and overall beauty.


Size

Larger pearls are often more valuable and sought after, with sizes ranging from small seed pearls to large baroque pearls.


Uniformity

Consistency in size, shape, color, and luster are prized (especially for a strand or set of pearls) as they enhance the overall aesthetic appeal and value.

Pearl Value

The value of a pearl is determined by a combination of its size, luster, surface quality, shape, color, nacre thickness, and overall desirability. Natural pearls are rare and command higher prices due to their scarcity, while cultured pearls offer a range in terms of quality and affordability 

Where Are Pearls Found?

Pearls are commonly sourced from various regions worldwide, including: 

  • South Sea Pearls are commonly sourced from Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.  
  • Tahitian Pearls are commonly sourced from French Polynesia and Cook Islands. 
  • Freshwater Pearls are commonly sourced from China, Japan, and the United States.  
  • Akoya Pearls are commonly sourced from Japan, China, and Vietnam.
Rose Gold Pearl Stud Earrings

Pearl Cleaning & Care

Pearls have a hardness ranging from 2.5 to 4.0 on the Mohs scale, making them very soft and susceptible to scratching or damage from chemicals in cosmetics or perfumes. To protect your pearl jewelry, avoid wearing it right after using personal care products and during activities like cleaning, exercising, or showering. Store pearls in a soft pouch to prevent scratching from other jewelry. When cleaning, skip ultrasonic or steam cleaners; occasionally use warm, soapy water instead. 

Facts About Pearls

  • Pearls are one of the only gemstones created by living organisms, making them unique among all gemstones. 
  • Pearls are sensitive to external factors like high temperatures, chemicals, and acids, requiring careful handling and maintenance. 
  • Pearls are the gemstones of the third and thirtieth wedding anniversaries.
Model wearing pearl earrings and fashion rings.

Famous Pearls

  • La Peregrina: A large, pear-shaped pearl with a history of famous owners, including Elizabeth Taylor. 
  • Hope Pearl: Once part of the Hope Diamond necklace, this unique grayish-blue pearl captivates with its exceptional size and color. 
  • Imperial Hong Kong Pearl: A record-breaking natural pearl weighing over 15.36 carats, renowned for its exceptional luster and round shape.
Assortment of pearl earrings, necklace, and bracelet.

Pearl FAQ's

How much are pearls worth?

Pearl value varies based on factors like size, shape, luster, and quality.

What are pearls made of?

Pearls are composed of crystalline aragonite and conchiolin proteins, forming the nacre layers that give pearls their beauty.

Do clams make pearls?

Clams do not produce pearls; they are primarily formed by bivalves like oysters, mussels, and other mollusks.

What do pearls symbolize?

Pearls symbolize purity, innocence, and wisdom, embodying virtues of love, protection, and good fortune in various cultures and traditions.

Is a pearl a gem?

Pearls are classified as organic gems, and are derived from living organisms like mollusks, making them distinct from mineral gemstones like diamonds or rubies.

What are the natural types of pearls?

Pearls can be classified based on their origin, including saltwater varieties like Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian, and freshwater pearls from mussels in rivers and lakes.

Are freshwater pearls real?

Freshwater pearls are pearls cultivated in freshwater mussels, offering affordability and a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes in the jewelry market.

How long does it take a pearl to form?

Natural pearls can take several years to form, while cultured pearls typically develop over 1-3 years, depending on the size, cultivation method, and environmental conditions.

How are pearls harvested?

Pearls are harvested by carefully opening the oyster or mussel, extracting the formed pearl, and evaluating its quality based on luster, shape, and surface characteristics.

Are cultured pearls real?

Cultured pearls are genuine pearls created with human intervention to simulate natural pearl formation.

Where do freshwater pearls come from?

Freshwater pearls are cultivated in mussels inhabiting freshwater bodies like rivers, lakes, and ponds.

What does Akoya mean?

Akoya pearls are named after the Pinctada Fucata oyster, known as Akoya in Japanese, renowned for producing high-quality, lustrous pearls in Japan and China.

What are pearls used for?

Pearls have been used for centuries in jewelry, accessories, and decorative items, symbolizing elegance, sophistication, and timeless beauty in diverse cultural and fashion contexts.

How are cultured pearls made?

Cultured pearls are formed by inserting an irritant into a mollusk to initiate nacre deposition around the nucleus, replicating the natural pearl formation process under controlled conditions.

How big can pearls get?

Pearls come in a variety of sizes, from tiny seed pearls measuring 1mm to large baroque pearls that can exceed 20mm in diameter.