What Are Cultured Pearls? What To Know Before You Buy

What Are Cultured PearlsIs there anything more timeless than pearls? You can’t go wrong with a classic gemstone, and pearls are timeless pieces that never go out of style. But what you might not realize is that there are different types of pearls in the market. There are cultured pearls, freshwater pearls, natural pearls, Akoya pearls, and more — so what’s the difference? More specifically, what are cultured pearls?

You have questions, and we have answers! Read on as we round up all the details you need to know about buying cultured pearls.

First, let’s answer the question on everyone’s mind:

Are Cultured Pearls Real?

Absolutely! However, despite their wide availability, they aren’t as rare as what is considered “natural pearls.” Compared to natural pearls, are cultured pearls real? Yes, both are organic gemstones, but cultured pearls need a little help from humans to grow.

So, what are cultured pearls?

Unlike natural pearls (which grow independently), cultured pearls grow in farms where farmers place a small shell bead (an irritant) into an oyster shell. Cultured pearls are authentic and produced from an oyster or mollusk.

Natural pearls grow when an irritant like sand drifts into an oyster shell. Over time, the mollusk defends itself from the irritant by releasing secretions called nacre, which develops around the irritant and eventually form a beautiful pearl.

The process is the same for cultured pearls, with one key exception: farmers insert the irritant instead of it naturally entering the organism.
What Are Cultured Pearls

How Are Cultured Pearls Made?

Cultured pearls produce from the same process as natural pearls. However, instead of waiting for an irritant to flow in (which is highly rare), farmers place the irritant inside the oyster’s tissue.

From there, the mollusk or oyster conducts the same defense mechanism against the irritant. As you can see, the only difference between natural pearls and cultured pearls is the way the irritant gets inside the oyster’s muscle.

Why would farmers insert irritants into a muscle? Because natural pearls are extremely rare. So rare, in fact, that most pearls on the market are cultured. Because cultured pearls are widely available, they aren’t as valuable or expensive as natural pearls — which are extremely expensive and are almost exclusively sold at auctions.

The reason natural pearls are so rare is that it’s not common for an irritant to flow into an oyster shell. Even when it does naturally enter, it most often passes through the oyster before the organism deploys its pearl-nurturing defense mechanism.
What Are Cultured Pearls

Where Do Cultured Pearls Come From?

Cultured pearls come from all over the world and farmers grow them in both freshwater and saltwater.

  • Saltwater pearls - primarily come from farms in Australian and Asian oceans. The most desired saltwater pearls are Tahitian Pearls, Akoya Pearls, and South Sea Pearls. Saltwater oysters and mollusks can only produce one pearl at a time, making them rarer than freshwater pearls.

  • Freshwater pearls - grow mostly in farms from China’s lakes, rivers, and waterways. Unlike saltwater pearls, freshwater oysters can grow thirty oysters simultaneously!  

Generally, saltwater pearls are more popular and valuable than freshwater pearls since they are less abundant, so how much are they worth?

Are Cultured Pearls Worth Anything?

As we mentioned earlier, natural pearls are much more valuable than cultured pearls. That’s not to say that cultured pearls can’t fetch a pretty penny, though. There’s value in diversity, and cultured pearls have plenty of that.

You’ll find cultured pearls in all different shapes — from round to pear to oval to drop to baroque. There’s also a nice variation of pearl colors, including white, black, and colored pearls in shades of pink, silver, blue, and even purple!

Below, we’ll take a closer look at the most popular cultured pearls and what they’re worth.

Tahitian Pearls

These beauties are grown in saltwater surrounding the islands of French Polynesia. The oyster that grows them is called Pinctada margaritifera, but you won’t need to remember that name. Instead, remember that Tahitian pearls are primarily black or gray, with accent hues in blues, purples, and greens.

Most Tahitian pearls are large, round, and make beautiful necklaces and earrings. Of all the cultured pearls in the market, Tahitian pearls are the second most valuable thanks to their naturally dark colors.

What are the most valuable cultured pearls?
Tahitian pearls

South Sea Pearls

These exotic pearls grow inside the Pinctada maxima oyster, which lives in various regions including Australia, Myanmar, and Indonesia. These beautiful pearls are large and typically round, and their average size is between 8mm-20mm.

Although South Sea pearls are commercially farmed, they are the most valued and desired cultured pearls that exist, thanks to their beautiful sheen and luster.
south sea peral

Akoya Pearls

Of all the cultured pearls, Akoya pearls are the most abundant and come from multiple sources around the globe, including Vietnam, Thailand, China, Japan, and Australia. Akoya pearls are diverse in size and color, but on average they’re about 7mm in diameter.

Like South Sea pearls, Akoya pearls are shiny with a brilliant luster, but because they’re more widely available, they aren’t as valuable.

What Is The Difference Between A Cultured Pearl and A Natural Pearl?

So, ready to learn how to tell natural pearls from cultured? There’s truly only one key piece of information to takeaway: natural and cultured pearls are the same, with the only difference being how the irritant entered the oyster or mollusk.

From there, the organism does its natural nacre-releasing process to grow the layers of a glistening pearl. Ultimately, natural pearls are extremely rare and expensive. What’s more, they are difficult to track down because they’re a natural phenomenon that rarely occurs.

Cultured pearls might not share the same esteem as natural pearls, but they are a beautiful gemstone that you can actually get your hands on and wear. Regardless of the way the irritant entered the oyster’s soft tissue, pearls are a timeless organic gemstone that looks beautiful in jewelry!

Speaking of pearl jewelry…

Ready To Shop For Cultured Pearls?

Cultured pearls are a beautiful addition to your jewelry and gemstone collection. Whether you’re shopping for South Sea pearls, Tahitian pearls, or unique pearl jewelry, you’re sure to find a pearlescent treasure in our collection!

SHOP FOR PEARLS


Was this article helpful?

A-Z Of Gemstones

A-Z Of Gemstones

A-Z Of Gemstones
83 articles
Additional Gemstone Information

Additional Gemstone Information

Additional Gemstone Information
63 articles
Birthstones By Month

Birthstones By Month

Our list of birthstones by month will help you understand what each birthstone means and why they make thoughtful and beautiful gifts.
13 articles
Did You Know?

Did You Know?

Did You Know?
73 articles
Drawing Design Awards

Drawing Design Awards

Drawing Design Awards
2 articles
Gem Rock Auctions Verified Sellers

Gem Rock Auctions Verified Sellers

Gem Rock Auctions Verified Sellers
3 articles
Holistic Gemstone Information

Holistic Gemstone Information

Holistic Gemstone Information
14 articles
How To's

How To's

How To's is where you will find helpful articles from gem Rock Auctions on how to cut gemstones, select gemstones and buy gemstones.
11 articles
News

News

News and events on Gem Rock Auctions
52 articles
Technical Information on Gemstones

Technical Information on Gemstones

Technical Information on Gemstones
37 articles