A guide to the different types of pearls and where they come from: Natural versus cultured pearls: The life of the natural pearl begins...

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A guide to the different types of pearls and where they come from:

Natural versus cultured pearls: The life of the natural pearl begins when a foreign object such as a parasite or piece of shell becomes lodged in the soft tissue of a mollusk. To protect itself from this foreign entity, the mollusk begins to secrete a protective and crystalline substance called nacre. The mollusk will continue to secrete layers upon layers of nacre around the object for as long as it remains. This results in the creation of an exquisite gem that both reflects and refracts light, a pearl.

Cultured pearls are formed in almost identical fashion, but man encourages the creation of a pearl by inserting the foreign object into the mollusk instead of leaving it to nature. This process is called nucleation and usually involves the insertion of a bead and/or mollusk tissue. Most pearls and pearl jewelry sold today are cultured.

Freshwater pearls: Unlike other pearl types, these grow in mussels that live in freshwater ponds and rivers and are found primarily in China and Japan, but also in North America and Europe.

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South Sea pearls: The South Seas are the natural home of the world’s largest pearl-yielding oyster, Pinctada maxima, the mother of the giant South Sea pearl. Originally prized for its mother of pearl, the Pinctada maxima oyster beds were nearly destroyed from too much fishing by the 1930s. Rigorous environmental regulations throughout the waters of Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma and Thailand resulted in the population replenishing its numbers.

Tahitian pearls: The Pinctada margaritifera, or black-lipped oyster, is responsible for the creation of the Tahitian pearl. These oysters produce pearls that range in size from 8 mm to 14 mm. Tahitian pearls are not literally grown in Tahiti but rather in the surrounding islands and atolls of the French Polynesian islands. The color of a pearl is dictated by its shell, and these come in myriad metallic colors, including gray, black, green and blue. They are generally not round but baroque and semi-baroque; fewer than half of Tahitian pearls are round.

Source: Iridesse