Pearls are classified as either natural
. Most of the pearls
worn today are cultured, while most of the natural pearls found today are vintage pearls. Approximately one
in every ten thousand oysters produce a natural pearl and the odds of that natural pearl produced being
perfect are one in a million. Due to this scarcity the process of pearl cultivation was born.
are those pearls formed when a human introduces an irritant into a mollusk. A
is defined as any invertebrate of the phylum Mollusca
are types of mollusks - and belong to the phylum Mollusca.
Natural and cultured freshwater pearls
are formed in mussels - while both natural and cultured
akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian
saltwater pearls are formed in oysters
To produce a freshwater cultured pearl a small thinly-sliced portion of a donor mussel's mantle tissue
is placed inside a pearl-producing mussel. To produce akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian pearls a small
well-formed smooth bead made from the shell of a donor mussel is placed inside the pearl-producing
oyster. Yes - that is right - the small well-formed beads inserted into saltwater pearl producing oysters
are from a freshwater mussel's shell. The United States is the largest supplier of these mussel shells used
to produce the bead nuclei to be inserted into saltwater oysters.
This insertion of a foreign irritant - whether it be a mantle tissue or a bead formed from a mussel's
shell - starts the pearl formation process.
It is very important to note the type of irritant inserted into a pearl-producing mollusk determines
the nacre thickness of a pearl. freshwater cultured pearls consist almost entirely of nacre
whereas akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian cultured pearls have a very thin layer of nacre. This is because
the mantel tissue used to form the freshwater cultured pearl almost completely dissolves whereas the
bead nuclei used to form the saltwater cultured pearl is much larger and stays intact in shape and
form and does not dissolve.
form when a parasite enters the shell of a mussel or oyster, thus starting the
pearl formation process naturally. It was once thought a grain of sand introduced into a mussel or
oyster started the natural pearl formation process, this however, is a myth. Mussels and oysters sift
thousands of grains of sand daily in and out of their interior. It is not a grain of sand but a parasite
that start the pearl formation process in a mussel and oyster.
are sold by their size in millimeters, and natural pearls
by their carat-weight.
Perfectly round natural pearls
are extremely rare and valuable. The irritant introduced determines
the shape of the pearl to some degree. The nacre is deposited in concentric circles around the irritant
thus producing the shape of the pearl.
Most of the pearl jewelry found in the finest jewelry stores today is made with cultured pearls. The proper
way to address these pearls is to use the word cultured
in the name, for example, freshwater cultured
pearls or akoya cultured pearls. To omit the word cultured
in the reference is misleading. The absence
of the word cultured implies natural and since natural pearls are extremely rare one can assume the jeweler
may not be experienced and/or knowledgeable.
We recommend buying your fine pearl jewelry from jewelers who are educated in pearl quality and who employ high
pearl grading standards.
There are two types of pearls:
Freshwater cultured pearls
- Freshwater cultured pearls, and
- Saltwater cultured pearls.
are formed in freshwater mussels that live in fresh bodies
of water, like lakes, ponds, and rivers.
The freshwater mussel can produce as many as fifty pearls at once, with each pearl ranging in size and
shape. The oyster that forms Saltwater pearls can only form one pearl at a time.
Freshwater cultured pearls
take about two to five years to form.
are formed in oysters that live in the ocean or protected lagoons. Types of
- South Sea, and
Many jewelers are misrepresenting the pearls they offer by omitting the word "cultured".
This implies their pearls are the much more valuable naturally occurring variety. This occurs both
online and in reputable jewelry stores. Usually this is just an oversight, but
sometimes the omission is a deliberate attempt to mislead potential customers.
Cultured Pearls are Real Pearls
The vast majority of pearls for sale today (over 99%) are cultured (grown) by
one of several methods. Cultured pearls are genuine pearls made of the same
nacre found in natural pearls. Cultured pearls are formed by the same processes
inside mussels and oysters that form natural pearls. Pearls form around irritants that
get inside a mussel or oyster. The primary difference between natural
and cultured pearls is how the irritant gets inside the mollusk.
Natural Pearls are Rare & Expensive
Naturally occurring pearls are extremely rare and are most often
vintage gems found selling in auction houses or estate sales for very high prices. A single
baby bracelet of top-quality natural 6mm pearls (similar to the
top-quality cultured pearls we use in our jewelry lines) would sell for
thousands of dollars. A single 16mm natural freshwater pearl of very high quality recently sold at auction
Our Ethical Standards
We strictly adhere
to the AGTA Code of Ethics
and Principles of Fair Business Practices and the
Commission (FTC) jewelry and precious metals guidelines. The FTC states you must use
the term "cultured" when referring to cultured pearls. Merely referring to a
pearl as a "pearl" instead of a "cultured pearl"
implies the pearl is natural.
We pride ourselves in upholding the ethical standards set forth by the Gemological
Institute of America (GIA), the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), and the Federal
Trade Commission (FTC).
Shelli M. Galbraith, GIA Pearls Graduate