What is a Cultured Pearl?

Natural Pearl, Cultured Pearls, Freshwater Pearls?

  White Lace Necklace

White Lace Necklace

The last time I posted, it was a story about a natural pearl necklace worth a million dollars. I am sometimes asked, "What is the difference between natural pearls and cultured pearls?" and also, "What is a cultured pearl?" and "What are freshwater pearls? Are they fake pearls?" I am here to answer all your questions.

All pearls are formed when an irritant becomes lodged in certain kinds of mollusks, such as oysters, clams and abalone. The mollusk forms a protective lustrous coating, called nacre, around the irritant. Layers of nacre continue to form over several years.

Natural Pearl

A natural pearl grows without human help. Only one in 10,000 mollusks will produce a naturally occurring pearl. Then they have to be found and brought to the surface. When you consider that many of these mollusks have been overharvested since the early 1900’s, you can see how rare natural pearls really are. Saltwater Pearls and Freshwater Pearls may occur naturally, or they can be farmed commercially.

Natural pearls on the market today are rare, expensive and mostly vintage. If you plan to purchase a natural pearl, ask for an official gemological x-ray certificate which will show authenticity and quality.

Cultured Pearls

  I designed the Vine Ring using a white and a black cultured pearl.

I designed the Vine Ring using a white and a black cultured pearl.

Cultured pearls are created with human intervention. Kokichi Mikimoto was the first person to grow a pearl. Cultured Pearls are farmed by surgically implanting the irritant, usually a small piece of shell, into the animal’s reproductive part. They can be grown in saltwater or freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers. Most freshwater pearls are grown in China. Depending on the type of mollusk, very different shapes, sizes and colors will occur. Cultured pearls, while still expensive, are much more available and affordable than a natural pearl.

imitation pearl

  I often use 6mm and 8mm glass pearls in my designs.

I often use 6mm and 8mm glass pearls in my designs.

Imitation pearls are sometimes called simulated pearls or glass pearls. These are completely manmade. They usually start with a glass bead. Then a pearlescent coating is baked on for durability. Simulated glass pearls don’t have as much luster as natural or cultured pearls, but are an inexpensive alternative to cultured pearls.

other terms:

  The pearls and lace bracelet is made from baroque cultured and imitation pearls.

The pearls and lace bracelet is made from baroque cultured and imitation pearls.

Baroque pearls. The term baroque refers to the shape of a pearl. Any pearl shape other than perfectly round will be called a baroque pearl. Coin pearls, potato pearls, stick pearls, and button pearls all describe the shape of a baroque pearl. Most of the cultured pearls produced are baroque pearls, and therefore less expensive. Since they are unique, many people consider them the most beautiful.

South Sea Pearls. South Sea pearls are large and have a silvery or golden luster. They can be natural or cultured and come from Australia, Indonesia and Phillipines

Tahitian pearls. Tahitian Pearls, also called black pearls are usually found or cultivated in the Tahitian and French Polynesian Islands. Colors range from charcoal gray to silver or green, often with overtones of blue, pink, purple, green, silver and yellow. Tahitian pearls can be large and are often baroque (not round) shaped. Some Tahitian pearls may be dyed.



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