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Pearls belong to a distinct group of gemstones called organic gems. Like amber, pearls are considered gems, but they are entirely inorganic because the made substance, nacre, is produced by oysters and freshwater mussels.

There are several types of pearls in the market, all vying for market supremacy. Let’s take a look at the pearl farming process and how the different kinds of pearls differ.


How is Pearl Farmed?

The cultured pearl is the term used to describe pearls that are created and harvested by pearl farmers. Pearl farming is an ancient art and traces its lineage to the olden pearl farmers of Japan.

The current method of pearl cultivation continues to follow the traditional Japanese method, though of course there have been improvements, the basic principles remain the same.

The process of peal farming takes some time. The oyster species Pinctada margatifera and Pinctada Vulgaris are often used for this purpose. After about three years of culture, these oysters can grow up to 15 centimeters in length. These two species are also excellent for the collection of nacre or mother of pearl, which is also used in various manufacturing industries.

Nacre is the substance that forms pearls, and thus, it possesses all of the characteristics that make pearl beautiful. It’s no small wonder that, from being a byproduct of pearl farming, the pearl mother has also enjoyed high demand for years.

Types of Pearl

pearl properties

Natural Pearl

A natural pearl occurs in wild oysters and giant clams at sea or in the larger oceanic bodies. Like cultured pearls, natural pearls occur when an irritant enters the body of a clam or oyster.

The clam/oyster releases nacre over some time to isolate the irritant and prevent it from causing illness. Wild-caught oysters and clams with pearls are hard to find, and it takes a lot of persistence to locate them.

Wild-caught oysters or clams with large pearls produce a lot of value in the jewelry market. A string of natural pearls can cost $15,000 or more, easily. It’s the rarity of the organic gem that boosts the value of the final product.

Freshwater pearls are fast becoming a market favorite because they cost less, and they’re beautiful as ever. Freshwater pearls are taken from mussels or oysters that mature in freshwater bodies like lakes and rivers.

In Japan, pearl farmers take extra care not to introduce their oysters in freshwater bodies that even have nominal levels of pollutants as water quality can affect the maturation and production of freshwater oysters. Freshwater pearls usually lack the roundness of saltwater pearls so that you will see a lot of oval or teardrop-shaped freshwater pearls.

Freshwater pearls have been improving in quality since pearl farmers shifted to other mussel types in the mid-1990s. This change created better-looking pearls with rounder configurations.

Genuine pearls are never perfectly round, which is the true mark of authenticity. Pearls that are too round and perfect are often simulants or fake pearls.

Saltwater Pearl

Saltwater pearls are cultivated in many parts of the world, from Japan to French Polynesia. What pearl cultivators usually do is they take the egg cells and sperm of oysters and cultivate them until they become spat or young oysters. From that point moving forward, the saltwater oysters are then hoisted and attached to surrogate rocks, where they are monitored until they mature.

Saltwater pearl farms are selective with their breeding of oysters, and they only take a limited quantity of new spat every year. It is essential for pearl farms to maintain the genetic diversity of their stock to ensure that their oysters survive and produce high-quality pearls after some time. Saltwater oysters are nucleated with the mother of pearl to induce the oysters to secrete nacre over the irritant. The nucleation takes place in the gonad or reproductive area of the oyster.

An exciting aspect of pearl culture is that the shape of the pearl is usually influenced by the shape of what was used to nucleate the oyster. So if you have an elongated piece inserted into gonad of the oyster, then the pearl will likely be slightly elongated.

Akoya Pearl vs. Mikimoto Pearl

Mikimoto-style pearls are freshwater pearls that usually cost less than Akoya pearls. A string of Mikimoto-style pearls can cost $300 or more, but it will be more affordable than a string of Akoya pearls. Choose Mikimoto-style pearls for daily wear, and if you think the pearls will be handled more roughly than the usual final jewelry. Mikimoto-style pearls are excellent gifts for young ladies and girls as well.

Akoya pearls are the better choice if you want higher grade pearls with better shapes and appearance. The pearl luster of Akoya pearls is also in the range of “Very High” to “Excellent.” Like other gems, the luster of pearls’ shine is evaluated and graded to determine the value of these organic gems.

Akoya pearls are also excellent if you wish to wear something for more formal events like weddings and high-end parties. They’re not meant to be worn daily, and their value will likely dissuade you from wearing them daily. While you are free to do so, you may end up damaging the beautiful pearls, which will reduce the value of the said jewelry pieces.

Mother of Pearl

As we have mentioned before, the mother of pearl or nacre refers to the substance that oysters secrete over the irritant inside to create the pearls. In marketing terms, the mother of the pearl refers to the hard internal lining of oyster shells. This is the same material as pearls. Mother of pearl is used for “shell pearls” or humanmade pearls.

The nacre is ground up into a fine powder and combined with other raw materials such as binders to create the pearls. Humanmade shell pearls are cheaper and best-suited for mass-marketed pearl products. Ironically, humanmade pearls retain their luster longer and are more durable than natural pearls.