Types of Pearls
Akoya - Akoya Pearls are found only
in Japan, China, and Vietnam. Japanese Akoya pearl farms are shifting
towards the warmer Chinese waters, where these pearls take only half as long
to grow. Overtone colors of Akoya pearls include white, cream, rose, silver,
and green. Akoya pearl sizes range from less than 5mm to 9mm. Larger Akoya
pearl sizes are possible, but less frequent. Akoya
pearls are known for their lovely orient and warm color. They rarely grow
more than 9 mm in size.
Biwa - A fresh water pearl
cultivated in a mollusk only in Japan's Lake Biwa. Smoother and more
lustrous than fresh water pearls from China.
Burmese - Large cultured pearls (10
mm and larger) grown in large oysters off the coasts of Burma. Warmer in
color tone than South Sea cultured pearls, rare and costly.
Cultured Pearls Made famous by
Mikimoto, nearly all pearls sold on the open market are cultured. Cultured
pearls evolve in a similar manner as natural pearls, with the distinction
being that cultured pearls have an irritant intentionally placed by a pearl
farmer to start the formation of a pearl. The process may take one to
several years. Japan, China and various places in the South Pacific have
traditionally been major suppliers of cultured pearls. All pearls sold on
this website are cultured pearls.
Fresh Water - Pearls cultivated in
mollusks, not oysters, found in fresh water lakes and rivers. Fresh water
pearls generally are elongated in shape and have a milky translucent
appearance. Their wide range of interesting shapes and colors make up in
fashion appeal for their relatively low value.
Japanese Vs Chinese Akoya Pearls - Japan is famous for its introduction
and promotion of the cultured pearl. Unfortunately, pollution has devastated
Japan's pearl harvests and has decreased the quality of their pearls.
initially started culturing pearls in the 1980's and is now producing pearls
of equal and sometimes higher quality than many of the pearls coming from
Japan. Since the waters in China are less polluted and warmer, Chinese
pearls have a thicker nacre and often a higher luster. Some Japanese firms
have even started importing Chinese pearls and labeling them as Japanese
pearls since it is more expensive to grow the pearls in Japan.
Keshi - Tiny pearls, some a little
bigger than a grain of sand, which form naturally in many cultured pearl
Mabe - Large hemispherical cultured
pearls grown against the inside shells of oysters instead of within the
body. Less expensive than regular round cultured pearls and, because of
their hemispherical shape, used mounted in such jewelry as earrings, rings
and brooches. These
are grown in Japan, China and the United States.
Natural Pearls (UNCULTURED) - These are the most rare form of a pearl.
They form without human instigation. The process begins when an irritant
positions itself inside the oyster. As a defensive measure, the oyster
secrets layers of nacre which cover the irritant. This nacre forms the
"pearl" as we know it. The amount, quality and shape of nacre that surrounds
the irritant particle essentially determines the quality of the pearl.
Because of their rarity and low demand, natural pearls can only be bought at
estate auctions and through private dealers.
Saltwater Pearls - These are almost
always Akoya pearls. (Akoya is the Japanese word for Saltwater) These pearls
are farmed in saltwater and are always grown in oysters. Saltwater pearls
typically command a higher price than their freshwater cousins.
South Sea - Large cultured pearls
(10 mm and larger) grown in large oysters off the coasts of Australia.
Usually silvery in appearance, and sometimes not as lustrous as fine Akoya
pearls, South Sea pearls are rare and costly.
Tahiti Cultured Pearls - are pearl concretions that are secreted inside
the black-lipped Pinctada Margaritifera species of pearl oysters cultivated
mainly in the lagoons of French Polynesia. They consist of thick pearly
layers containing organic substances and calcium carbonate in the form of
In French Polynesia, the trade designation "Tahiti Cultured Pearl" is
reserved exclusively for cultured pearls obtained from a grafting of the
locally cultivated Pinctada Margaritifera, variety cumingi pearl oyster.
Such pearls have a continuous pearly layer over at least 80% of their
surface and do not reveal either the underlying nucleus.French Polynesia
Official Classification: Tahiti Cultured Pearls are classified according to
their diameter, luster, shape, surface purity and color.
Lengths and terminology:
Choker - 14" to 15" in length.
Should nestle around the base of the neck.
Princess - 18" in length. Halfway
between choker and matinee length.
Matinee - 22" to 23" in length.
Should fall to the top of the cleavage.
Opera - 30" to 36" in length. Should
fall to the breastbone.
Sautoir or Rope - Any pearl necklace
longer than opera length
Dog Collar - Multiple strands of
pearls fitting closely around the neck.
Bib - Multiple strands of pearls,
each shorter than the one below, nested together in one necklace.
Graduated - A necklace composed of
pearls which taper downward in size from large pearls in the center.
Uniform - A necklace which appears
to be composed entirely of pearls of the same size, though there generally
is a slight difference in size between the center and the end pearls for a
more proportionate look.