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Pearl Types

Pearls are the only type of gemstone to grow inside a living creature. They form naturally within the soft inner surfaces of mollusks (mostly oysters, clams and mussels), and are generally considered of exceptional beauty and value. Most of the pearls found on the market today are cultured pearls, which are aided in their growth by the deliberate placement of an irritant inside the shell of a mollusk. When the mollusk produces layers of calcium carbonate to protect itself from the irritant, a pearl is usually formed. Cultured pearls are different to synthetic pearls, which are fully man-made and entirely fake. Cultured pearls are still natural gemstones that are simply assisted in their creation. Different types of mollusks produce pearls of varying sizes, shapes and colours. While non-cultured pearls that have been formed spontaneously in nature do exist, they are very rare.

The four most popular types of cultured pearls used in fine jewellery are Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian, and freshwater pearls.

  • Akoya Pearls
    Akoya pearls are highly prevalent in fine jewellery, due to their stunning luminosity, and consistency of shape, colour and size. Akoya pearls grow inside Japanese and Chinese mollusks called Pinctada Fucata. Their most common colour is white with a rosy glow, but they can also carry hints of gold or blue. They are usually between 6mm to 7mm in diameter; however, they can range from as small as 2mm to as large as 11mm. Akoya pearls over 7mm wide are very rare and expensive.
  • South Sea Pearls
    The rare Pinctada Maxima mollusk produces these large and exquisite pearls, which hail from Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and northern Australia. Because they are difficult to grow year-round, in addition to their prized smoothness and wide range of colours, South Sea pearls are the most expensive and valued pearls on the market. Their diameter usually falls between 11mm and 13mm; however, they can range between 9mm and 20mm.
  • Tahitian Pearls
    Tahitian pearls are easily distinguished because of their dark grey, purple, blue, green, and silver hues. Cultured inside Pinctada Margaritifera oysters from French Polynesia and the Cook Islands, Tahitian pearls are often called 'black pearls'. Their size typically falls between Akoya pearls and South Sea pearls, with an average diameter of 9mm to 10mm, and a general range of 8mm to 16mm.
  • Freshwater Pearls
    Freshwater pearls are the only type of cultivated pearls that grow inside mussels native to freshwater lakes and rivers in China. Freshwater pearls are generally less lustrous than saltwater pearl varieties, and can vary greatly in appearance and value. However, freshwater pearls are very strong and can be economical to produce, with a single mussel capable of growing more than one pearl inside its shell. Freshwater pearls can form in any number of colours, depending on the minerals in the water and the mussel's diet. Their average size is slightly larger than Akoya pearls at a range of 7mm to 8mm, but they can grow anywhere between 2mm and 16mm in diameter.
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