Anyone who loves pearls will know that they come in a range of breathtaking colours. From classic white Akoya Pearls to Tahitian Black Pearls and everything in between, each pearl has its own unique shade and hue.
Want to understand pearl colours, how different pearl colours are created, and why some shades of pearls command such high values? Here’s everything you need to know.
What different colours do pearls come in?
While the most common pearl colour is white, pearls come in almost every colour imaginable. Black, grey, cream, and silver pearls are also quite commonly known. But pearl colours aren’t limited just to these monochromatic neutral shades. Because so many unique factors determine the colour of each pearl, the range of colours available extend to almost every hue.
Some are rarer than others, but you can find pearls in a range of colours including:
The main colour is often called the body colour – but this body colour can be modified by additional overtones. Overtones can vary, but common shades include different hues of pink, blue, green, and purple.
Why and how do oysters create different colour pearls?
With such a varied palette of pearl colours available, jewellery buyers are certainly spoilt for choice. But where do these colours come from? We’ve already mentioned that the lip of an oyster has an influence on the eventual colour, but what else plays a role?
Let’s take a look at what factors determine the colour of a given pearl.
Type of Oyster
One of the major influences on a pearl’s colour is the colour of the oyster’s lip. This lip is just another term for the outer shell. Tahitian pearls, which are famously dark, get their colour from the Pinctada margaritifera oyster which has silver and grey hues at the lip.
That said, it can be hard to tell what colour pearl will be produced from an oyster which isn’t dark-lipped. Other factors also come into play, alongside the different tints of the oyster’s lip.
Nacre – Thickness and Number of Layers
The nacre is what the oyster produces in response to an irritant placed within it. The layers of nacre are what eventually form the pearl, so it makes sense that the nacre composition would influence pearl colour. A thick nacre would normally create a pearl with a deep and rich colour. Lots of overlapping layers of nacre are thought to create the much sought-after iridescence present in some pearls. On the other hand, a thin nacre with fewer layers would create a pearl with a more milky colour and less iridescence.
Ever wondered how pearls can have multiple colours? The overtones are created by the nacre layers. If an oyster produces multiple layers of overlapping nacre, you’re more likely to have a pearl with different coloured overtones.
Conchiolin plays a role in creating natural pearl colour. Conchiolin is actually an organic protein which forms part of the nacre. It acts as the ‘glue’ which holds other layers together. The transparency and hue of conchiolin depends on the water in which the oyster lives. Because conchiolin is translucent, certain minerals or impurities in a body of water or the other layers of nacre can shine through it, tinting the pearl in the process.
Dyeing of Pearls
Many of the gorgeous shades you see on different pearls are completely natural, but because dying is possible, there really is no limit to the colours that a pearl could be available in.
For example, know that very few pearls are naturally black. Tahitian Black Pearls are one of the types that are naturally black. If other pearls are marketed as a black pearl, it is quite likely that it has been dyed.
Does pearl colour influence the cost?
Does the colour of a pearl change how much it is worth? Of course!
While there’s no saying that one type of pearl is more beautiful than another, some pearl colours are particularly rare. For instance, Tahitian Black Pearls command a much higher value than classic white pearls as they are less common. The same can be said of South Sea Golden Pearls.
When it comes to pearl colours and the cost of pearls, there’s three major things to consider. The first is the body colour of the pearl, the second is the overtone, and the third is the consistency or uniformity of the colour. The value will depend on the individual pearl and what combination of body colour and overtones it displays, amongst other factors.
As a guideline, however, pink overtones tend to make a white pearl more valuable. Blue or purple overtones on a black pearl also increase the value significantly. The more uniform the colour and lustre, the more valuable the pearl.
What colour pearl should I buy?
While some pearl colours and types are definitely more valuable than others, colour isn’t the only factor to consider. Your unique style, the colour of your skin and hair, the clothes you wear, and your budget will all come into play when selecting the pearl colour which is perfect for you.
Regardless, if you invest in a piece of quality pearl jewellery, you’ll be proud to wear it for years to come.