Pearls are a precious, favorite gemstone of many people, but most people do not actually understand the differences in pearls. In many cases, people assume that the only difference between pearls is their color, which is not true. In fact, there are several differences in pearls relating to how pearls are cultured or natural, and whether they are freshwater pearls or saltwater pearls. Read on to learn all about these differences in pearls and what they mean as far as price is concerned.

Natural Pearls vs. Cultured Pearls

There are no visible differences between cultured and natural pearls, but there are differences in the way they are harvested and the price. Pearls that are considered natural pearls are ones that are formed when a mollusk protects or soothes itself from an irritation such as a grain of sand, minute parasites or other small foreign bodies. Natural pearls can be fished either from seawater or from inland rivers and lakes (freshwater).

Cultured pearls are very similarly formed to natural pearls but the irritant that the mollusk tries to protect itself from is placed there by humans. Therefore, the irritation doesn’t occur naturally but rather is cultured. Pearls can be cultured in freshwater or saltwater areas. Cultured freshwater pearls , like those found in the Tara Island Collection, are considered especially beautiful.

Natural pearls are more expensive than cultured pearls because natural pearls are harder to find. Nearly all pearls sold in the world today are cultured. Cultured pearls have a stable supply and are more affordable, which is why most jewelers prefer to sell cultured pearls. Typically, cultured pearls are sold by the millimeter size of their diameter.

Natural pearl supplies have almost ceased, mainly due to a lack of divers, oyster shortages, and pollution. While new natural pearls are occasionally found, there is no steady supply. Natural pearls today can be found in older jewelry, and are usually sold by carat weight.

Freshwater Pearls vs. Saltwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are typically cultured in mussels grown in a freshwater environment, like a lake or river. Freshwater pearls are created when a piece of the mantle of another mussel is placed into the receiving freshwater mussel. Freshwater pearls are solid pearls and most range from 3 mm to 12 mm and are usually smaller then saltwater pearls. Freshwater cultured pearls can be created in a spectrum of colors. Many popular colors can be achieved through natural means. In some cases, there are even gorgeous collections of only freshwater pearls.

Saltwater pearls are cultured in oysters grown in the ocean. Two of the more popular saltwater pearls are Tahitian pearls and South Sea pearls. Saltwater pearls are bead nucleated, which means that a small, round bead is introduced to a saltwater oyster. Saltwater pearls are generally round in shape and the shine is more brilliant than freshwater pearls. Some saltwater pearls range from 8 to 18 mm or larger.

Typically, saltwater pearls are considered more valuable than freshwater pearls because they are often more lustrous and are more consistently spherical. Additionally, freshwater mussels can be harvested from many times which makes the supply more plentiful than those from saltwater mussels. If you’re interested in pearls, you should check out My Pacific Pearls today!