There are several different types of pearls available for use in jewelry, let’s look at them here.
They have the highest luster and greatest shine of all cultured pearls. Akoya pearls have been cultivated from saltwater mollusks in Japan since the early 1900’s. Today, most of Akoya cultured pearls are produced in China.
Although they are available in hues such as rose, silver, cream, gold and blue-gray, the most commonly available shade of Akoya is white.
They are used in all types of jewelry, most commonly seen in necklace strands and earrings that are beautifully matched for size, shape, and color.
When compared to freshwater pearls, Akoya are usually larger, smoother, rounder, and more lustrous.
Freshwater pearls come from freshwater mussels. They have been cultivated in Japan and the United States on a limited scale, but today the vast majority of freshwater cultured pearls come from China. A single mussel can be harvested several times thanks to a process called grafting, which was developed by pearl producers in order to maximize the yield.
Most freshwater cultured pearls are round or rice-shaped. The round freshwater pearls look similar to the Akoya pearl, but are usually smaller, less symmetrical and less expensive. Good quality freshwater pearls can still offer excellent value.
Colored Freshwater Cultured Pearls
Freshwater cultured pearls are available in many colors. It is important to understand whether the color is natural or altered by a post-harvesting treatment, which may affect the value. Freshwater mussels naturally produce pearls that are white, cream or pastel, including shades of pink, peach, lavender, gold and gray. The color depends on the mollusk’s genetics, diet and environment.
To produce colors that do not occur naturally, create an evenly-color strand, or to simulate a rare natural color, freshwater pearls are often dyed, chemically treated or irradiated. These enhancement methods create a wide spectrum of colors – from white to black (Note: natural black color is found only in Tahitian pearls cultivated from black lipped oysters).
These common techniques are accepted by the industry, but the buyer should always be informed whether a color alteration technique was applied to a particular jewelry piece, since it will affect the price of pearls.
South Sea pearls are among the largest and most valued harvested pearls in the world. They are cultured primarily in Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar. These areas are the native habitat of a large oyster known as Pinctada maxima, which produces bigger pearls than other saltwater oysters, such as the Akoya.
South Sea pearls are known for excellent smoothness and roundness. They are typically whitish, with subtle silver and golden overtones that are rare in other pearl types.
Due to their exceptional quality, rarity and a complex cultivation process, South Sea pearls are usually more expensive than other pearls.
Tahitian Pearls come from the warm waters around Tahiti and the French Polynesian islands. They are grown in black-lipped oysters, which reach over a foot in diameter and produce very large pearls. These oysters are very delicate, which makes the pearl culturing process very difficult and costly, resulting in high prices of Tahitian pearls.
Because they are the only pearl type that can naturally achieve black color, Tahitian pearls are commonly referred to as “black pearls”. Usually, however, they contain hints of green, pink, blue, silver or yellow. The truly black pearls extremely rare, and are among the most valued pearls in the world.