Natural vs Cultured Pearls

Natural vs Cultured Pearls

Curious about the contrast between natural pearls and cultured pearls? Look no further!

Within this comprehensive educational manual, I shall address the most commonly pondered inquiries concerning these enigmatic treasures of the sea, such as:

  • Do cultured pearls possess authenticity akin to natural pearls?
  • Are freshwater pearls synonymous with natural pearls?
  • Which variant of pearls boasts superior quality?

How Are Pearls Formed?

Pearls present themselves as fascinating gemstones, capturing our intrigue. Not only do they claim the title of June’s birthstone, but their uniqueness extends beyond their origins.

While technically not stones, pearls are widely recognized as precious gems.

When it comes to jewelry, pearls and amber reign as two of the most sought-after organic gems. Organic gems originate from either plant or animal sources.

It is common for cartoons to depict clams as the sole producers of pearls, but this portrayal falls short of reality. Pearls emerge from a diverse array of mollusk species.

Primarily, pearls stem from oysters or mussels, with freshwater pearls predominantly sourced from freshwater mussels, while saltwater oysters are the primary creators of saltwater pearls.

It is worth noting that not all mollusks possess the ability to generate pearls, and the distinct species yield varying types of pearls.

The process of introducing irritants into pearl oysters’ shells is imperative. While commonly attributed to sand, various other irritants have been discovered within oysters. Typically, parasites serve as the primary irritants. Interestingly, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) documents an instance where a small fragment of coral acted as the nucleus of a pearl.

However, there are cases where pearls lack a distinct nucleus. These unique specimens are known as keshi pearls. Their remarkable luster is derived from being entirely composed of nacre.

The mollusk experiences irritation due to the presence of the irritant and initiates the process of coating it with a substance called nacre. Nacre, comprised of the mineral aragonite and mother-of-pearl, takes center stage. Aragonite takes the form of hexagonal-shaped plates, while mother-of-pearl usually acts as the central core.

Thin layers of hexagonal plates gracefully envelop the central mother-of-pearl bead. Within these layers, the nacre bestows upon the pearl its captivating brilliance and aesthetic charm. The quality of the pearl is greatly influenced by the presence and composition of these successive layers of nacre.

Origin – Cultured vs Natural Pearls

The realm of pearl jewelry encompasses two distinctive categories: natural pearls and cultured pearls. Both varieties originate from mollusks and are cultivated utilizing the aforementioned process. However, there exist a couple of noteworthy distinctions in their acquisition methods.

Natural Pearls

Wild or natural pearls hold a remarkable rarity in today’s world. The cultivation of pearls, known as cultured pearls, dominates the market. Only a mere one out of ten thousand mollusks residing outside of designated farms will yield a pearl. Even then, the produced pearl must meet stringent standards of pearl quality. The infrequency of such occurrences can be easily grasped.

It is important to note that the harvesting of natural pearls is also limited due to their scarcity. The American Gem Society acknowledges that the majority of natural pearls worldwide have been exhausted by pearl divers. As a result, the natural pearls available in the jewelry market are predominantly of vintage origin, commanding exorbitant prices in jewelry auctions.

Cultured Pearls

In the year 1893, Kokichi Mikimoto unveiled cultured pearls to the world, thus earning the esteemed title of the “Pearl Pioneer.” By ingeniously introducing an irritant into a mollusk manually, he succeeded in birthing the very first cultured pearl.

In essence, cultured pearls are the result of human intervention in the cultivation process. They embody the authenticity of genuine pearls, while imitation pearls, on the other hand, are mere replicas.

The art of nurturing cultured pearls takes place within carefully curated pearl farms, where devoted pearl farmers meticulously cultivate them. These farms cater to both freshwater and saltwater varieties.

China stands as the principal source for a significant portion of freshwater cultured pearls, while Australia and various regions in Asia host the cultivation of cultured saltwater pearls. The specific type of saltwater oyster responsible for pearl production varies depending on the location.

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Appearance – Cultured vs Natural Pearls

The visual attributes and hue of a pearl are contingent upon the mollusk species responsible for its formation. Certain visual resemblances can be observed both in natural pearls and their cultured counterparts.

Natural Pearls

In the realm of natural pearl jewelry, it is imperative that pearls meet specific criteria pertaining to their quality factors before being made available for public acquisition. Pearl-generating mollusks existing beyond the confines of controlled environments seldom engender pearls due to their limited chances of survival.

Distinguishing between natural pearls and their cultured counterparts poses a considerable challenge. To achieve absolute certainty, resorting to X-ray examination becomes necessary. Alternatively, one may employ a relatively straightforward technique involving an assessment of the nacre’s thickness. Generally, natural pearls boast a thicker nacre, and their authenticity can often be discerned by subjecting them to intense illumination and scrutinizing their transparency.

Unlike their cultivated counterparts, natural pearls exhibit a certain imperfection in their appearance. They commonly assume baroque forms or exhibit inherent flaws. In instances where natural pearls do appear exceptionally flawless, it is highly probable that they will command exorbitant prices during auction events.

Cultured Pearls

Typically, cultured pearls exhibit a greater tendency towards roundness when compared to their natural counterparts. This disparity arises due to the controlled environment they are nurtured in, shielding them from various threats that impede their natural development.

A similar principle applies to the creation of gemstones within laboratory settings. When a gemstone is synthetically formed in a controlled environment, it has the advantage of achieving superior color and clarity, as no external factors are introduced during its formation.

Analogously, the practice of culturing pearls within pearl farms affords heightened protection to the pearl oysters. This controlled environment enables optimal conditions for their growth and ensures their safety.

Although cultured pearls predominantly exhibit round shapes, they also manifest in various other forms. Baroque pearls, for instance, possess a unique aesthetic appeal that appeals to a specific market, and they are often more affordable than their perfectly round counterparts.

Distinct dissimilarities can be observed in the appearance of cultured saltwater and freshwater pearls. Saltwater pearls, specifically, exhibit a trichotomy consisting of Akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian variations. Each classification of saltwater cultured pearls boasts distinctive characteristics in terms of overtone hues, color variations, and size ranges exclusive to their respective species.

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An exceptional quality of the Akoya cultured pearl oyster lies in its ability to yield pearls of considerable size, surpassing its counterparts in magnitude. These exquisite pearls showcase an affinity for roundness, further enhancing their allure. The Akoya pearls are renowned for their lustrous white appearance, but they also possess a captivating variant characterized by a delicate interplay of white and pink hues.

In parallel, the South Sea cultured pearl oyster stands as another remarkable producer of large pearls. These pearls, cultivated in freshwater environments, boast a resplendent palette primarily dominated by golden and white tones, evoking an air of elegance and sophistication.

Distinct from its counterparts, the pinctada maxima oyster gives rise to a rare treasure known as the Tahitian cultured pearl. These pearls, famously referred to as black pearls, mesmerize with their bewitching dark hue, accompanied by intriguing nuances of blue, purple, green, or gray.


In the past, the diminished radiance of freshwater pearls was attributed to their thicker coating of nacre. However, through meticulous cultivation techniques, this drawback has been successfully rectified, leading to enhanced luster and brilliance. Despite this advancement, baroque shapes such as teardrops and ovals remain the prevailing forms for freshwater pearls, exuding a unique and irregular charm.


The color spectrum of freshwater pearls encompasses an array of captivating shades, including ivory white, delicate pink, and resplendent gold. Remarkably, the allure of black freshwater pearls, akin to their Tahitian counterparts, is achieved through a process of controlled irradiation, offering an affordable alternative without compromising on the striking aesthetic.


Distinguishing between natural and cultured pearls can often prove to be an arduous task, necessitating the expertise of a discerning eye.

Price and Value – Natural vs Cultured Pearls

As I have previously emphasized, the inherent scarcity of natural pearls renders them considerably more precious and costly in comparison to cultured pearls. Allow me to delve further into this matter.

Natural Pearls

Pearl Paradise stands out among the limited online retailers offering authentic pearls, predominantly showcasing their distinctive baroque shapes. Remarkably, they possessed solely one solitary round natural pearl available in their inventory.

Shop at Pearl Paradise

Consider the staggering price implications when envisioning an entire string of these pearls, given that a single pearl commands a hefty sum of $1,500.

It is important to note that a natural saltwater pearl holds superior worth and commands a higher price compared to its freshwater counterpart.

Whether natural or cultured, a Tahitian pearl, Akoya pearl, or South Sea pearl will consistently boast greater value than a freshwater pearl of equivalent quality.

Nonetheless, it remains evident that natural freshwater pearls, despite their origins, retain a higher cost and greater intrinsic value when juxtaposed with cultured freshwater pearls.

Cultured Pearls

Cultivated pearls possess a significantly lower price point in comparison to their natural counterparts. Furthermore, they enjoy a higher prevalence and are relatively effortless to manufacture at a superior standard, thus diminishing their overall worth.

In contrast, when comparing freshwater cultivated pearls to saltwater cultivated pearls, the former is considered less precious. This is primarily due to the fact that a freshwater mollusk has the capacity to generate up to 30 pearls simultaneously, facilitating an accelerated rate of production in freshwater pearl cultivation.

Below, you will find the price listings of a few authentic jewelry items featuring freshwater cultivated pearls available for purchase on various online platforms:

The production of a single pearl at a time is limited to saltwater cultured pearls. This inherent time-consuming process enhances their perceived value due to the meticulous nature of their formation.

Akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian pearls are renowned for their exceptional desirability when cultivated, and as such, command prices in the range of several thousand units of currency.

Today, I present to you a curated collection of pearl jewelry pieces sourced from legitimate online retailers in the real world, featuring exquisite examples from each of these coveted pearl varieties:


Baroque pearls, seed pearls, mabe pearls, and shell pearls are all priced lower compared to their spherical counterparts.


Bottom Line – Natural vs Cultured Pearls

In essence:

It would be truly extraordinary to possess a string of genuine pearls, whether natural or of any other variant, owing to their exceptional scarcity. However, the privilege of owning such treasures remains within the financial reach of only a select few. Cultivated pearls, on the other hand, extend this opportunity to a wider audience.

Here’s the rationale behind it:

  • Affordability: Cultured pearls offer a more affordable alternative.
  • Abundant Selection: There exists a plethora of options to cater to varied preferences.
  • Indistinguishable Quality: Superior cultured pearls can mirror the appearance of natural pearls.
  • Comparable Durability: They exhibit a similar level of overall resilience as their natural counterparts.

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