Types of pearls
Freshwater pearls are cultivated in freshwater (mostly lakes and rivers). They come in a range of shapes and varying degrees of quality. It’s possible to come across perfectly round pearls as well as baroque and oval pearls. These pearls are affordable since it’s possible to grow up to twenty pearls in one freshwater mussel.
Akoya pearls come from China, Vietnam and Japan and in Japanese, the word Akoya actually means “salt water”. They are generally 5 to 9 mm large in terms of size and they are most often white in colour. In the warmer waters off the coast of China, the pearls can grow up to two times faster than in the colder Japanese waters.
Tahitian pearls are cultivated inside a special type of oyster with a black lip which is found in French Polynesia. These pearls are very rare because only a small percentage of the farmed oysters survive. The individual pearls differ from each other significantly and using them in jewellery is very challenging. For instance, you need to sort through hundreds of them just to make a single necklace.
South Pacific pearls are cultivated in Australia, Myanmar, Indonesia and other neighbouring countries. On average, these pearls are around 10-20 mm in size and are very highly valued. They are usually white, yellow or yellow-orange in colour and sometimes they also come with a touch of pink, green or blue in them.
Mabe pearls are known for their hemispherical shape. This is because they are cultivated with the help of a small nucleus which is attached to the inside of the oyster’s shell. They are cultivated in China, Japan and USA. Because of their shape, they are primarily used to make rings and earrings and they are attached to these with the flat side down.
Judging the quality of pearls
Pearls are graded based on their size, shape, colour, surface, and lustre.
Pearl shapes and size
You will most often come across round pearls and this shape also happens to be the most popular. A round shape can be further separated into perfectly round, off-round, and fluted. Other pearl shapes include oval, button, and teardrop, while baroque pearls are also common. Saltwater pearls are generally rounder than freshwater pearls which are often oval or have other irregular shapes.
The typical pearl sizes are:
- Freshwater pearls: 4 - 9 mm,
- Akoya pearls: 6 - 8 mm,
- South Pacific pearls: 11 - 13 mm,
- Tahitian pearls: 9 - 12 mm,
- Keshi pearls: 4 - 10 mm,
- Mabe pearls: 10 - 12 mm.
The colour of pearls
Pearls of all kinds (except Tahitian pearls) are most commonly white but they can also come in shades of pink or cream and they can frequently also have intense colours such as blue, green, purple and black.
Pearl surface and lustre
The smoothness of a pearl is assessed in terms of its surface. A pearl's quality is determined by whether or not there is any roughness such as bumps and wrinkles on its surface. Essentially, the smoother the pearl, the better its quality.
The lustre of a pearl is judged by its intensity. Pearls can be matte, have a satin lustre or a very high lustre. Pearls with more lustre have a higher value. The intensity of the lustre also depends on the type of pearl. For example, freshwater pearls have less lustre than Akoya pearls and these in turn have less lustre compared to Tahitian pearls. Most of our suppliers use the simplified AAA-B scale to grade pearls, with AAA being the highest quality. When you buy one of our pearls, you also receive an appraisal of the overall quality of the pearl.