Pearl Types: Your Guide to the different Types of Pearls

pearl types illustration with oyster on the beach with pearls

Jewellery lovers will know that not all pearls are created equal. Natural, cultured, saltwater, fresh – and that doesn’t even cover the different varieties of pearls from classic Akoya to black Tahitian pearls. The different types of pearls available today are not only valued differently, but have different characteristics and origins. That’s part of the reason we love pearl jewellery so much. Each piece is so unique!

Here’s a guide to different pearl types you can find.

Natural vs Cultured Pearls

A natural pearl relies on an irritant such as sand getting into the oyster’s tissue for the formation of a pearl. This results in a defensive mechanism whereby the oyster produces nacre to protect itself. The nacre then becomes the pearl, formed around the irritant.

The process is much the same in cultured pearls, except that the irritant is surgically inserted and the oyster is carefully monitored and cared for. Natural pearls are much rarer and therefore, more valuable.

Saltwater vs Fresh Pearls

As you might guess, freshwater pearls are formed in rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water that are not salty. They are also typically grown by mussels, not oysters. Saltwater pearls are grown by oysters in oceans across the world.

Saltwater pearls and freshwater pearls have quite different characteristics. For example, saltwater pearls tend to be more glossy and have more luster than freshwater pearls. Saltwater pearls are also less common, and take longer to grow, thus are often more valuable.

Type Of Pearls

1. Akoya Pearls

Akoya pearls are the most familiar type of cultured pearls to most people. Akoya pearls are the pearls that come to mind when you think of classically-styled, round pearls in white or cream. Those Hollywood style glam pearl necklaces? Akoya pearls, most likely! These are a truly gorgeous, timeless choice of pearl which are commonly produced in both Japan and China.

2. South Sea Cultured Pearls

South sea cultured pearls have the thickest nacre of all saltwater pearls due to their long growth period. Both white and golden South Sea pearls are some of the most sought-after pearls available, and are often referred to as the Queen of Pearls. The oysters which produce south sea cultured pearls are particularly sensitive and susceptible to distress, making the pearls more limited than other varieties. South sea cultured pearls display beautiful, shimmery tones of white, silver, and gold and are typically the largest cultured pearls available on the market. Because of their size, lustre, and limited availability, they are incredibly valuable.

3. Tahitian Cultured Pearls

Although the name would suggest that Tahitian pearls are found only in Tahiti, they are actually cultivated around French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, the Micronesian Islands and to a lesser extent Japan and Thailand. That said, only pearls actually grown in French Polynesia can be called Tahitian pearls – just think of them as the champagne of the pearl world!

You might hear people referring to Tahitian Pearls as black pearls, but they actually come in a range of colours including grey, silver, black or brown. In addition to this, they also offer gorgeous jewel overtones in a range of purple, blue, pink, and green hues.

Tahitian pearls are the only naturally coloured black pearls available (the others are dyed!) and can take on an almost-metallic look at times. They’re a lovely choice for something with that classic, elegant pearl style but with a mysterious dark shimmer to them.

4. Keshi Pearls

Keshi pearls are tiny pearls that form as a result of a much larger pearl also being cultured in an oyster. They’re technically a by-product of the pearl cultivation process, and a beautiful one at that! Because these pearls grow with no nucleus they can be considered natural pearls and are pure nacre.

They come in all kinds of colours and shapes, but round ones are very rare. They’re normally incredibly iridescent and have a soft glow to them, whether they’re champagne, peach, peacock, eggplant, or pistachio coloured – or something else entirely!

5. Mabe Pearls or Blister Pearls

These types of pearls are cultured on the inside of the shell as opposed to within the body of the oyster itself. Because these pearls aren’t surrounded by the oyster entirely, there’s a small flat area which forms where the pearl was attached to the shell.  When the pearls are still inside the oyster, it’s known as a blister pearl. After they have been successfully processed, they are known as Mabe pearls.

Mabe pearls are usually sized between 1.1cm to 1.7cm and come in a wide variety of different hues including pinks, greens and blue shades.

So now that you know all about the different types of pearls, which one is your favourite? Browse our range of pearl jewellery to decide!

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