Different Types of Pearls and How to Pick Them

Different Types of Pearls and How to Pick Them

Curious about the realm of exquisite pearl adornments?

You’ve found yourself in the perfect haven. The realm of pearls is adorned with a myriad of enchanting variations, making it quite the challenge for customers to discern their desires.

Within this educational compendium, we shall delve into the depths of pearl classifications and elucidate inquiries such as:

  • Do cultured pearls bear the authenticity of their natural counterparts?
  • Can a pearl engagement ring withstand the test of time?
  • What imparts the exorbitant price tag on natural pearls?

The Intricacies of Pearl Formation – Unveiling the Process

Pearls, an ancient and cherished type of gem, stand out as one of the most time-honored treasures known to humanity. Unlike other gems formed through the geological processes of mineral compression within the Earth’s crust, pearls possess a distinct origin, emerging from organic sources. In addition to pearls, the illustrious company of organic gemstones encompasses amber and opals.

Pearls come into existence through the remarkable processes of various mollusk species. Notably, oysters and mussels serve as pearl producers, while clams do not partake in this unique creation. To initiate pearl formation, an irritant must find its way into the mollusk. While many presume this to be a grain of sand, it is often a parasitic organism.

Let me explain further. Within the inner shell of a pearl oyster or mussel resides a substance known as nacre. Nacre, composed of aragonite—a calcium carbonate mineral—and mother of pearl, deviates from the conventional aragonite structure by arranging itself into hexagonal plates. These plates gradually encase a central core, namely, a mother of pearl bead. Over time, these successive layers envelop the bead, bestowing upon the pearl its captivating sheen and exquisite allure.

Hexagonal Aragonite Plates

Difference Between Cultured Pearls and Natural Pearls

Innovation knows no bounds when it comes to enhancing the accessibility and excellence of precious stones. By harnessing the power of scientific ingenuity, we have the ability to fabricate exquisite diamonds and a plethora of gemstones within controlled laboratory environments. This breakthrough not only ensures their affordability but also guarantees unparalleled quality. Moreover, extending this remarkable concept to the realm of pearls, we can now forge a diverse range of affordable pearl variations, allowing individuals from all walks of life to cherish these treasures.

To clarify any misconceptions, it is imperative to recognize that cultured pearls are indeed authentic pearls, devoid of any artificial origins. The fundamental disparity between natural and cultured pearls lies in their formation process. While natural pearls emerge serendipitously, cultured pearls are meticulously cultivated through innovative pearl farming techniques.

Within the confines of pearl farms, carefully selected mollusks are introduced to stimulating agents, provoking the creation of magnificent pearls. Through this artful fusion of nature and human intervention, we can manifest the timeless beauty of pearls while ensuring their widespread availability and enjoyment.

Pearl Farming

Genuine pearls of the natural variety are an extraordinary rarity. The privilege of yielding pearls rests solely with specific breeds of mollusks, such as freshwater pearls or their natural counterparts. Yet, even among these esteemed mollusks, not every single one possesses the ability to generate a pearl. Sometimes referred to as wild pearls, natural pearls are bestowed upon us by the whims of fate, with a staggering statistic indicating that only one pearl emerges from approximately every 10,000 mollusks.

Pearl Terminologies

When it comes to the captivating realm of pearls, they are categorized not only as cultured or natural but also as saltwater or freshwater pearls.

Before we plunge into the captivating array of pearl types, let’s acquaint ourselves with some essential terminologies:

  • Body Color – This refers to the predominant hue exhibited by the pearl.
  • Overtone – It signifies a translucent secondary color that delicately overlays the body color, lending an enchanting dimension.
  • Orient – An alluring iridescent play of rainbow hues that manifests when the pearl is delicately angled in the presence of light. It is important to note that not every pearl possesses an overtone or orient.
  • Exceptional pearls of high quality showcase both these captivating traits. However, every type of pearl does exhibit a distinct body color. Nonetheless, pearls of inferior quality may lack overtones or orients.
  • Luster – Undoubtedly, the most crucial determinant of a pearl’s value. The Gemological Institute of America has outlined five levels for evaluating pearl luster in accordance with its seven Pearl Quality Factors.
    • Excellent: Reflections emanate with luminosity and precision, exhibiting brilliance and clarity.
    • Very Good: Reflections exude brightness and a proximity to sharpness, displaying remarkable radiance and distinctness.
    • Good: Reflections possess brightness but lack the sharpness, accompanied by a subtle haziness around their periphery.
    • Fair: Reflections demonstrate a weakened state, appearing faint and blurred.
    • Poor: Reflections lose their vibrancy, becoming dim and diffused, lacking distinctness and precision.

Different Types of Pearls

Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater mollusks inhabit tranquil bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. The existence of natural freshwater pearls is an exceedingly uncommon phenomenon. Almost without exception, the pearls found in freshwater settings are cultivated freshwater pearls.

Categorically speaking, there are no distinct classifications of freshwater pearls. The prevailing majority of cultured freshwater pearls assume an opalescent white gem color, akin to the elegance of Akoya freshwater pearls. However, through various treatments, these pearls can be imbued with captivating shades of pink, blue, gray, gold, peach, and lavender. Due to their porous nature, pearls readily absorb dyes to undergo delightful chromatic transformations.

Among the cultured freshwater pearls that captivate my admiration, there exists a particular fondness for the resplendent strands adorned with an array of captivating hues. One exquisite example that has ensnared my attention hails from the esteemed artisans at Blue Nile, showcasing a stunning pearl strand that emanates unrivaled beauty.


Saltwater Pearls

Saltwater pearls encompass both the realm of nature’s exquisite offerings and the marvels crafted through cultured techniques. Naturally formed saltwater pearls stand as remarkable treasures, renowned for their scarcity and exorbitant price tags. Similar to their freshwater counterparts, the majority of these natural saltwater pearls have been meticulously gathered from their oceanic habitats. On the other hand, saltwater cultured pearls present a more accessible yet still luxurious alternative, offering a relatively more affordable option within this realm of elegance.

The realm of saltwater pearls unveils a trinity of prominent types, each originating from distinct corners of the globe.

Tahitian Pearls

The origin of Tahitian pearls can be traced back to the remarkable pinctada margaritifera cumingi oyster. This exceptional oyster, known for its distinct black-lipped appearance, thrives in the rich waters surrounding Fiji and plays a crucial role in the cultivation of Cultured Tahitian pearls.

The meticulous processes of farming and harvesting take place in the captivating expanse of the French Polynesian islands, where the pearls are meticulously cultured and nurtured to perfection within the enchanting confines of Tahiti.

Tahitian pearls are commonly associated with the notion of black pearls in most people’s minds. However, it is intriguing to note that authentic Tahitian pearls primarily exhibit a magnificent shade of gray. The paradox lies in the fact that these pearls are often referred to as Black Tahitian pearls.

Tahitian Pearl and Diamond Drop Earrings


Additionally, there exists a variation known as chocolate pearls, which are indeed Tahitian pearls themselves. Black Tahitian pearls undergo a specialized treatment process to acquire a captivating bronze overtone. Conversely, brown pearls belong to the realm of freshwater pearls that have been deliberately dyed to achieve a solid brown hue.

Following the success achieved by Mikimoto in cultivating Akoya pearls within the pearl farms of Japan, the era of Cultured Tahitian pearls swiftly emerged, marking a significant milestone in the world of pearl cultivation.

Tahitian pearls are renowned for their captivating range of body colors, which encompass an enchanting palette of light gray, dark gray, blue, or brown. While these shades hold immense allure, it is important to note that Tahitian pearls possess the remarkable ability to manifest in a diverse spectrum of hues, although the aforementioned colors remain the most coveted.

The allure of Tahitian pearls further amplifies with the presence of captivating overtones. These overtones can manifest as enticing blues, greens, golds, or pinks, enhancing the inherent beauty of each pearl. Moreover, the mesmerizing orient of Tahitian pearls reveals a kaleidoscopic tapestry akin to the iridescent hues of an oil spill, evoking a magnificent array of colors reminiscent of a vibrant rainbow.

South Sea Pearls

The captivating realm of South Sea pearls unveils a mesmerizing duality in their coloration, presenting us with two exquisite variations: the radiant Golden South Sea pearls and the resplendent White South Sea pearls. While White South Sea pearls share certain similarities with Akoya pearls, they exude a grandeur in their size that sets them apart. Among the various pearl-producing mollusks, South Sea pearls reign supreme in terms of sheer magnitude, bestowing upon us pearls of unparalleled proportions.

South Sea Pearl and Diamond Pendant


When it comes to the pursuit of South Sea pearls, the majority of individuals harbor a specific desire for pearls adorned with lustrous golden hues. Personally, I find myself captivated by the irresistible allure of Golden South Sea pearls. It is worth noting that the acquisition of a solitary natural South Sea pearl entails a considerable investment, given their exquisite rarity.

However, through the realm of cultured pearls, South Sea pearls become relatively more accessible, albeit still representing a significant financial commitment. For instance, an entire strand of cultured South Sea pearls may command a price tag upwards of $15,000, testament to their undeniable elegance and desirability.

Gold South Sea Pearl Strand


Originating from the depths of Japanese aquatic realms, South Sea pearls emanate with captivating allure. The illustrious Golden South Sea pearls find their genesis within the pinctada maxima, a remarkable saltwater mussel species. On the other hand, the opulent Soft White South Sea pearls are cultivated within the exquisite pinctada maxima pearl oyster.

Discerning the potential hue of the pearls produced by these extraordinary mollusks can be accomplished by observing the distinct coloration of their lips. Mussels adorned with golden-hued lips are poised to grace us with resplendent Golden South Sea pearls, while their counterparts with contrasting lip colors herald the emergence of the enchanting Soft White South Sea pearls.

Akoya Pearls

Renowned as the epitome of pearl varieties, Akoya pearls have achieved unrivaled prominence. These exquisite pearls are revered for their exceptional luster and impeccably refined shapes. The quintessential Akoya pearls are traditionally spherical, emanating an enchanting symmetrical allure. However, it is noteworthy that within this realm of cultured pearls, irregular-shaped Akoya pearls also emerge, bearing a distinct charm.

The origin of Akoya pearls can be traced back to the pinctada fucata oyster, unveiling the intricate beauty derived from nature’s remarkable craftsmanship. As is the case with numerous natural pearls, it is reasonable to assume that the majority of Akoya pearl jewelry available at affordable price points consists of cultured Akoya pearls, a testament to the accessibility and popularity of these exquisite gems.

The allure surrounding Akoya pearls stems from their coveted radiance and captivating aesthetics. Among all pearl varieties, Akoya pearls possess the remarkable ability to attain unparalleled luster, owed in part to the frigid waters that cradle their existence. The colder temperatures within these aquatic realms influence the oyster’s nacre deposition process, resulting in a slower and more deliberate layering, which contributes to the pearls’ exquisite quality. To ensure optimal excellence, these pearls are harvested during the coldest months when conditions are most favorable.

The meticulous formation of nacre manifests in a mesmerizing display, allowing high-quality Akoya pearls to reflect light with exceptional brilliance. One can almost catch a glimpse of their own reflection within the resplendent shimmering surface of these pearls. This inherent luster positions Akoya pearls as the most sought-after gems within the realm of pearl jewelry, as it stands as the paramount quality factor.

Akoya pearls grace the world with an array of enchanting shades, predominantly boasting cream-colored and white pearls adorned with captivating silver, green, or pink overtones. While blue Akoya pearls exist, their scarcity and elevated value render them a rarity in the realm of these extraordinary gems.

Shop at Blue Nile

Other Different Types of Pearls

Baroque Pearls

Various categories of pearls possess the ability to be labeled as baroque. This designation is bestowed upon any pearl displaying an asymmetrical form. Baroque pearls, being less costly and more sought after, enjoy a higher level of popularity compared to their flawlessly spherical counterparts.

Baroque pearl and morganite earrings


Keshi Pearls

Keshi pearls are a distinctive kind of pearls that lack a central core, consisting entirely of solid nacre. Devoid of a nucleus, the nacre develops into irregular configurations. Keshi pearls and mabe pearls can be classified into diverse pearl types based on their particular shapes.

When of diminutive proportions, Keshi pearls are often referred to as poppy seed pearls or simply seed pearls. They encompass various pearl variations, yet they must measure less than 2mm in size. It is crucial to exercise caution when purchasing seed pearl jewelry, as it can be either genuine or counterfeit. To ensure a trustworthy acquisition, opt for a reputable vendor that provides a comprehensive item description. The majority of seed pearl jewelry is crafted from freshwater pearls, contributing to their affordability.

Keshi Pearl Shapes

Below, I present a selection of distinct forms exhibited by non-nucleated or tissue nucleated pearls.

  • Tubular pearls
  • Blossom pearls
  • Stellar pearls
  • Crispy rice pearls
  • Twig pearls
  • Disc pearls
  • Pustule pearls
Pearls in different shapes

Blister pearls, in essence, do not belong to the authentic category of pearls. In technical terms, they can be considered as semi-pearls or incomplete pearls. These peculiar entities take the form of hollow, half-molded patches of nacre that adhere to the inner surface of a freshwater mollusk’s shell.

Blister pearls are alternatively known as mabe pearls, and it was precisely these mabe pearls that served as the initial “varieties” of cultivated pearls. This significant development served as inspiration to Kokichi Mikimoto, fueling his determination to accomplish successful pearl cultivation.

Melo Melo Pearl

Amongst the diverse array of pearls, the Melo melo pearls stand out as the most exceptional and uncommon. These pearls originate from the Melo melo snail, a species found in the South Seas of China. Melo pearls exhibit a captivating spectrum of hues, encompassing shades of tan, brown, and orange. Notably, the orange variations hold the highest desirability.

Melo melo snail shell and melo pearls

The rarity of this particular pearl type stems from the absence of cultivation or farming methods employed in its production. Moreover, Melo pearls lack the characteristic iridescence found in other pearls due to the absence of nacre within their composition.

Real vs Fake Pearls

Identifying counterfeit pearls can be a breeze for an expert in the field, whereas for a novice purchaser, it becomes a more challenging task.

A significant indication of faux pearls lies in their flawless roundness. Authentic Akoya pearls, although typically round, possess minute imperfections such as tiny dents and irregularities. Conversely, counterfeit pearls exhibit a perfectly uniform roundness, regardless of their composition. Each pearl possesses its own distinctive characteristics, rendering them truly one-of-a-kind.

Likewise, genuine pearls acquire textural variations due to natural blemishes and irregularities. Conversely, imitation pearls feel remarkably smooth, resembling the glass-like quality they are often crafted from.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pearls

Can a pearl be considered suitable for an engagement ring?

When it comes to choosing an alternative gemstone for an engagement ring, the classic round pearl stands out as a popular choice. Nevertheless, it may not be the most ideal gemstone option for such a significant symbol of commitment. While it is possible to adorn oneself with a pearl engagement ring, it is imperative to exercise utmost caution and diligent upkeep when dealing with pearls.

Akoya Pearl and Diamond Ring


Pearls have a rating of 2.5 on the Mohs scale, indicating their susceptibility to scratches. In contrast, diamonds reign as the hardest mineral globally, boasting a perfect 10 on the Mohs scale. Pearls are more prone to acquiring scratches rather than experiencing outright fractures.

To ensure the optimal condition of pearl engagement rings and other pearl jewelry, a myriad of precautions must be observed throughout their usage, cleaning, post-wear care, and storage. By diligently adhering to these necessary measures, one can fully relish the beauty of a pearl ring without worry.

What is the cost associated with natural and cultured pearls?

The price tag attached to pearl jewelry is determined by various factors such as the sheen, orientation, dimensions, arrangement, and, naturally, the type of pearls employed in the creation. Given their scarcity, a natural pearl commands a significantly higher price compared to a cultured pearl.

Pearl strand prices can exhibit considerable variation, but let’s explore some approximate price ranges for different types of pearls.

  • South Sea Pearls: Typically priced from $1,000 to $100,000 and beyond.
  • Tahitian Pearls: Generally fall within the range of $500 to $25,000.
  • Akoya Pearls: Can be found in the price range of $300 to $15,000.
  • Freshwater Pearls: Generally priced between $50 and $3,000.

It is important to note that these ranges are merely general guidelines and actual prices may differ based on factors such as quality, size, shape, and overall market conditions.

The Process of Culturing Pearls

The initial variety of cultivated pearls emerged in the form of Akoya pearls. Kokichi Mikimoto, a renowned individual from Japan, achieved a breakthrough by cultivating an Akoya pearl. However, the outcome differed from the impeccably round and complete Akoya cultured pearl jewelry that graces our present-day showcases.

Kokichi Mikimoto, the Father of Cultured Pearls

However, in the year 1905, Mikimoto accomplished a significant milestone by successfully cultivating intact Akoya pearls. His groundbreaking technique involved taking a pearl nucleus and enveloping it with a fragment of mantle tissue sourced from a different mollusk. Once this nucleus was introduced to saltwater oysters, they formed a protective pearl sac, gradually depositing layers of lustrous nacre.

Driven by his innovative approach, Mikimoto sought to secure a patent for his pioneering cultured pearl method. However, it is worth noting that he was not the sole contender in this endeavor. Two other individuals had also triumphed in their quest to create cultured pearls by employing a minute section of mantle tissue combined with a nucleus crafted from gold and silver.


After pooling their collective knowledge and expertise, the trio reached a harmonious agreement. By amalgamating their distinct pearl farming methods and refining their processes, they paved the way for a groundbreaking breakthrough. Mikimoto, in particular, embarked on a prolific journey of mass-producing cultured pearls.

To this day, Mikimoto’s refined technique for cultivating various types of cultured pearls remains in practice. The process involves introducing a mother of pearl bead, accompanied by a minute piece of tissue, into the oyster’s delicate ecosystem. This harmonious union sets the stage for the oyster to initiate the remarkable transformation and commence the creation of splendid cultured pearls.

Glass Imitation Pearls

Genuine pearls exhibit a characteristic coolness and weightiness that distinguishes them from their counterfeit counterparts. However, relying solely on these indicators is not foolproof. It is crucial to employ a combination of various tests, as no single method guarantees absolute accuracy. Embracing a multifaceted approach helps ensure a more reliable assessment of the authenticity of pearls.


If you find yourself in search of exquisite pearl jewelry, I suggest exploring diverse avenues. Personally, I find great admiration for Blue Nile’s captivating assortment of pearl jewelry. Within their collection, one can discover an array of cultured pearls, encompassing both freshwater and saltwater varieties. Allow me to highlight a particularly stunning example: the exquisite Tahitian pearl bracelet. This piece gracefully showcases an enchanting blend of blue and gray hues, emanating from the magnificent Tahitian pearls it harbors.


While Blue Nile undoubtedly offers a repertoire of timeless pieces that cater to popular preferences, those seeking something distinctive or lavish should turn their attention to Brilliant Earth’s captivating assortment of pearl jewelry.

Here, a realm of uniqueness and opulence awaits. Prepare to embark on a journey where single pearl rings take a backseat, making way for designs featuring smaller pearls alongside the mesmerizing sparkle of diamonds. As you peruse Brilliant Earth’s collection, you’ll notice a departure from the conventional pearl stud earrings, as drops and dangling earrings take center stage, exuding elegance and charm.


Pearls, the exquisite treasures from the depths of the ocean, possess an unrivaled allure that can elevate your jewelry collection to new heights. Whether your preferences lean towards the affordability of cultured freshwater pearls or the refined elegance of cultured saltwater pearls, fear not, for we have curated a selection of the finest online destinations to acquire these prized gems, catering to every discerning taste and desire. Regardless of the type of pearl you seek, rest assured that we have sourced the ultimate sources for your pearl shopping endeavors.

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