Pearls have been coveted for centuries, if not millennia, as a source of beauty and a store of wealth. It is for this reason that the word “pearl” is commonly used to denote something or someone of great value and rare talent.
Pearls never go out of fashion and they are to be found in the jewelry collection of every self-respecting jewelry connoisseur. They come in different shapes and colors, including white, pink, silver, cream, brown, green, blue, black and yellow. And given that they stem from nature, no two pearls are exactly alike.
All natural pearls (we shouldn’t even disrespect natural pearls with a discussion of imitation pearls, which are nothing other than a coated glass bead) are formed when a shelled mollusk is irritated by a microscopic object that becomes trapped in the folds of the mollusk’s mantle (soft tissue). The mollusk secretes nacre, a combination of aragonite and conchiolin, as a form of immunity reaction to cover the irritant and stop it from causing further irritation. The covered irritant is the pearl.
Following is a description of the types of pearls and their characteristics:
Natural Pearls – as the name implies, these are pearls that are formed in the wild. They are very rare as they rely on nature conspiring to create the perfect conditions for the creation of the perfect pearl.
Cultured Pearls – in contrast to Natural Pearls, Cultured Pearls occur when man gives nature a little bit of a helping hand to create a pearl. These pearls are grown in relatively controlled conditions on pearl farms. Mollusks are raised and then implanted with the bead that will irritate the mollusk and start the pearl creation process. Even with the best that modern science has to offer, this is still very much a hit and miss process.
Natural and cultured pearls may be difficult to distinguish, and this process is made even more difficult by the fact that many pearls undergo treatment to enhance their appearance. These processes affect the pearl’s value. Consequently, it is imperative that you deal with a reputable party when purchasing pearls.
Saltwater Pearls – once again, as the name implies, these are pearls that emanated from mollusks living in salt water bodies. The most famous of these pearls are the South Sea pearl that comes from Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines which range in size from 9-20mm and are usually white, cream, or golden colored. Tahitian pearls range in size from 8-16mm and they come from the French Polynesian islands as well as Tahiti. They are usually black, gray, blue, green, or purple in color. Akoya cultured pearls come from Japan and China. They are 2-10mm in size, with the larger pearls being rather rare and are usually white or cream colored and round.
Freshwater Pearls – these pearls are grown in freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, and ponds. Raised predominantly in China, Freshwater Pearls come in various shapes. They are quite similar to the Akoya pearl in size and shape; however, they can also be produced in pastel colors and different shapes.
These are the main categories of pearl, and although there may be further sub-categorized according to shape (baroque pearls are those of non-spherical shape) or color, you are now well on your way to understanding the complexities of these intricate gemstones.