Cultured Pearls Buying Guide
Renowned for their brilliant luster and smooth texture, cultured pearls are a must-have in every jewelry collection. Whether you dress up an evening gown with a pearl strand necklace or add a touch of elegance to an outfit with pearl stud earrings, the timeless beauty of this gem adds class and luxury to every look. As you start exploring different types of pearl jewelry, either for your own collection or as a gift, learn more about cultured pearls and what sets them apart from natural pearls.
What Are Cultured Pearls?
If you haven't delved into the world of pearl jewelry before, you might wonder about the differences between cultured pearls and natural pearls. Many people believe that natural varieties are more common, with cultured types simply making up the difference in demand. However, the truth is that most pearl jewelry today uses cultured pearls.
Natural varieties grow when a foreign substance, or irritant, makes its way inside a pearl oyster or mollusk. The oyster releases nacre, a soothing substance that coats the irritant and protects the oyster. Eventually, the buildup of nacre in the oyster's mantle tissue creates a pearl.
Cultured pearls develop the same way. The only difference is that human intervention is required. A human intentionally inserts an irritant, also known as a nucleus, into the mollusk. From there, the process of pearl creation is entirely the same.
This often brings up the question: are cultured pearls real or genuine? Yes. Although human intervention is involved in cultured varieties, the resulting pearls are as genuine as natural pearls.
Differences Between Cultured Pearls and Natural Pearls
To start, natural pearls are much rarer than cultured varieties. Consider the fact that natural pearl creation is an act of chance, and it's clear why wild specimens are so hard to find. In fact, experts believe that most of the world's natural pearls have already been found. On the other hand, cultured varieties are much less rare since humans can cause the creation of a pearl. You are more likely to see natural varieties in a museum than in a jewelry store.
There are also differences in quality. While all natural and cultured varieties are pearls, organic types can vary significantly in color, luster, and shape. This makes it challenging to find enough matching pearls for a piece of jewelry. With cultured pearls, there is more control over the outcome.
Did you know? As oysters age, they usually produce higher-quality pearls. Pearl farmers take great care to harvest each pearl using surgical instruments as to ensure neither the pearl nor the oyster is harmed during harvesting.
Varieties of Cultured Pearls
When you shop for pearl jewelry, you'll find a brilliant array of colors. This is due to the different cultured pearl varieties available.
South Sea pearls come primarily from the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia. Colors cover a range of white, silver, and gold hues. They tend to have a softer and less shiny luster than Akoya pearls. The largest and most vibrant of all cultured pearls. South Sea Pearls can grow up to 15 mm in size.
Grown around the island of Tahiti, these saltwater pearls come in an array of brilliant colors. Some of the tones you may see in Tahitian pearls include peacock blue, deep purple, gray, bright yellow, golden orange, black, green, and pink. Average sizes range from 8 to 14 mm.
Akoya gems are well-known among pearl enthusiasts, thanks to their brilliant luster and timeless, classic appearance. These pearls are typically available in white and cream tones, making them a perfect choice for bracelets, earrings, and other jewelry pieces. They are a little smaller than Tahitian Pearls, with an average size of 6 to 9 mm.
Cultured Freshwater Pearls
While the other varieties listed here are saltwater pearls, there are also beautiful freshwater pearls on the market. They come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and hues, so they truly stand out in many types of jewelry. Freshwater Pearls typically grow to about 6 to 10 mm, but due to modern pearl farming techniques, they can grow up to 15 mm in size.
Often with uneven or dented surfaces, these irregularities are not considered flaws and are prized for their individuality. No two Baroque Pearls are the same, so every piece of jewelry made with them is as unique as its owner.
How to Select and Clean Pearl Jewelry
Part of selecting the right pearl jewelry for your needs is choosing the proper pearl size. Cultured pearls are graded by their size in millimeters, with most pearls falling between 6mm and 9mm. However, there are smaller pearls for those searching for a more subtle look or a pearl jewelry gift for a child.
From there, you can think about what specific type of jewelry you want. If you're looking for a classic strand of pearls, length is an important consideration. Pearl necklaces often measure from 16-inches, which provides a closer fit around the neck, to 36-inches, which drops down to the mid-chest area. Consider an endless pearl necklace, a 48-64-inch string of pearls that allows for many fashionable wearing styles for a bolder look. Much depends on the outfits you want to match and how much of a statement you want to make.
Pearls are delicate, and caring for them properly will allow you to get much more enjoyment out of them. After each time you wear your pearl jewelry, wipe the pearls down with a soft cloth. Doing so eliminates oil and other substances that build up during wear. If your pearls become dirty, create a mix of room temperature water and mild dish soap. Apply the mixture to a soft cleaning cloth and use it to wipe down the pearls. Allow them to dry before storing them. Do not submerge pearls in water or use harsh chemicals to clean them.
What does cultured freshwater pearl mean?
Cultured freshwater pearls often grow in lakes and ponds instead of saltwater pearls, which grow in the ocean or sea.
How can you tell the difference between natural and cultured pearls?
You cannot tell the difference between natural and cultured varieties just by looking at them. To identify a pearl correctly, an expert must look at a detailed scan of the gem. In fact, differentiating between natural and cultured pearls is one of the most demanding tasks for jewelry experts.
Are cultured pearls real?
Cultured pearls are real pearls. Substantial care and effort go into the growth and harvesting of each cultured pearl. Whether you're looking for a new piece to add to your pearl collection or searching for a perfect gift for your loved ones, cultured pearl jewelry is a meaningful and beautiful option.
Which Type of Pearls Is More Expensive?
Due to their rarity, natural pearls are more expensive than cultured varieties. There are a few different types of cultured pearls, and prices vary accordingly. The list below starts with the most expensive type of pearl and works down to the equally beautiful but less expensive variety.
- South Sea Pearls – Considered the Rolls Royce or the Queen of cultured pearls. South Sea pearls are in great demand and, therefore, high in price.
- Tahitian Pearls – Generally smaller than South Sea Pearls with a wide selection of beautiful, naturally created dark colors.
- Akoya Pearls – The first type of pearl to be farmed, Akoya pearls feature perfectly round shapes and reflective sheen.
- Freshwater Pearls – This versatile Pearl comes in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors.
- Baroque Pearls – This type of pearl comes in a myriad of shapes and sizes.