Types of Pearls - Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls

Types of Pearls - Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls


Natural Pearls

Natural pearls form in the bodies, or mantle tissue, of certain mollusks, usually around a microscopic irritant, and always without human help of any kind.

Cultured Pearls

The growth of cultured pearls requires human intervention and care. Today, most of the mollusks used in the culturing process are raised specifically for that purpose, although some wild mollusks are still collected and used.

The most widely known and available categories of cultured pearls are freshwater, Akoya, and South Sea, and Tahitian

Cultured pearls represent the bulk of all pearls widely sold in the U.S.

What are the different types of pearls?

South Sea

The legendary allure of South Sea pearls comes from their transparent luster and unique play of colors, or “orient,” that imparts a luminescent beauty. 

These qualities define the finest nacre and make South Sea Pearls the most valuable of all pearls.

Originally exclusive to Australia, South Sea pearls are now cultured in Indonesia, Burma, and the Philippines. 

Colors range from white pink and silver pink to dark gold. 

Australian pearls can throw fancy colors including red gold which is extremely rare and highly regarded. 

These sizeable pearls work well in strands and statement pieces.

Most South Sea cultured pearls range from 10.0 to 15.0 mm taking two years to grow. 

Larger pearls up to 20mm take four to six years of growth. 


Often called black pearls, Tahitian pearls grow in the warm, turquoise lagoons of French Polynesia and other islands in the South Seas. 

Tahitian pearl colors range from gray to black with pure black extremely rare and very valuable. 

Consistent color tone makes pearls highly desirable with peacock tones demanding the highest prices. 

Tahitian pearls are harvested between 8.0 mm to 14.0 mm. 

Sizes up to 20.0 mm occur rarely and are highly prized.


Akoya pearls are the classic and best-known variety of all cultured pearls, and are what people typically imagine when thinking of a pearl.

Hailing from Japan, the most valued Akoya pearl colors are white and white with pink undertones. 

Best-known of the cultured pearls, their roundness, nacre depth, and consistent luster have positioned them as the preferred choice for a timeless statement.


Akoya pearls are known as the Cadillac of pearls for their supreme luster. 

Slick, high-polish surfaces are the calling card of the Akoya pearl, which is grown in the colder waters off the coast of Japan and in some parts of China and Vietnam. 

Akoya colors—based on the lip color of the oyster in which they grow—are white, off white, pale gray, light blue, and cream with overtones of pink, silver, and green. 

Akoya pearls are often viewed as a classic choice, though jewelry designers are now taking advantage of the wide range of Akoya types on the market.

When you think of a simple pearl necklace for a bride or to accent that little black dress, the Akoya pearl sets the standard as the premier choice. 

The Akoya oyster is the smallest pearl-producing oyster in the world, yet each produces four or five 4.0mm to 9.0mm pearls.



Freshwater pearls are the most colorful and affordable of all cultured pearls. 

The color of the lips of freshwater pearl mussels vary widely, from white to pink to lavender, peach, and more. 

Meanwhile, costs to grow freshwater pearls are less than Akoya and South Sea because freshwater mussels are more abundant, and their pearls require less time and maintenance to grow. 

Freshwater pearls are an ideal entry item to collecting fine pearl jewelry.

Though originally produced in Japan, 90% of the world’s freshwater pearls now come from China.

Supply is plentiful, as each shell can produce up to 100 pearls simultaneously.

While typically irregular in color and shape, freshwater pearls are the most affordable and are widely used in sterling silver jewelry because of their availability.

Though only 5cm to 6cm long, each triangular-shaped shellfish receives 12 to 16 grafts of mantle tissue rather than a round nucleus.  

These pearls range in size from 4.0mm to 10.0mm, but larger ones are less likely.



Japanese Mabé pearls grow in saltwater mussels and some oysters, forming on the inside of the shell, rather than in the mussel’s tissue. 

The most desirable color is white with pink undertones, but dark, smoky, and blue colors are possible. 

These cultured pearls with domed hemispheres and an almost flat back are great for brooches and pendants.


Pearl Jewelry Buyer's Cheat Sheet

Right, so i know that was a lot to take in, so to make it easy for you to choose pearl jewelry, we have put together the Pearl Jewelry Buyer's Cheat Sheet. It’s like having the cheat codes for the pearl jewelry business.

This will guide you on what to look for to ensure you get great deals on high-quality pearl jewelry.

For a free copy of the Pearl Jewelry Buyer's Cheat Sheet, click the link below. 

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