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The Different Types of Pearls: Freshwater, Saltwater, Natural, and Cultured
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Sunday, June 01, 2014
The Different Types of Pearls: Freshwater, Saltwater, Natural, and Cultured
Freshwater Pearl and Diamond Earrings
Freshwater Pearl and Diamond Earrings
Pearl jewelry has been loved and worn for centuries. Pearls are the only gem produced by a living organism. It is formed inside particular species of mollusks, which include oysters and mussels. Pearls are first classified as either freshwater or saltwater. They are then categorized as either natural or cultured.

A natural pearl is formed under a set of accidental situations when a parasite or any foreign object lodges inside the mollusk's shell. Any particle that settles inside can irritate the internal soft tissues. To counteract potential harm, the mollusk forms a pearl sac of external mantle tissue cells and secretes a calcium carbonate substance called nacre to coat the irritant. Over a period of several years, this build-up of nacre creates a natural pearl.

Since natural pearls are formed without human assistance, they are considerably rare and therefore, extremely valuable. Most pearls are cultured, using a process which is much more predictable.

Cultured pearls, on the other hand, are grown with human intervention. A skilled technician begins the formation of the pearl by inserting a nucleus into the mollusk. Types of cultured pearls falls into two varieties: the saltwater cultured pearls and freshwater cultured pearls.

Saltwater pearls are cultured in oysters grown in an ocean or bay. The three most popular types of saltwater pearls are Akoya pearls, Tahitian pearls, and South Sea pearls. Generally, saltwater pearls are bead nucleated. With the help of an expert, a nucleus bead with small tissue is surgically implanted into the oyster's reproductive organ or the gonad. The bead serves as the mold and concentric layers of nacre are secreted around the spherical bead, which then creates the pearl. Often times, only one pearl can be grown at a time, which limits the number of pearls at a harvest period.

Akoya pearls take the least amount of time before harvesting, 8 months to 2 years after grafting the oyster, whereas South Sea and Tahitian pearls have longer incubation cycles of between 2 and 6 years.

Oval Freshwater Pearl Pendant with Diamonds
Oval Freshwater Pearl Pendant with Diamonds
While saltwater pearls are produced by oysters, freshwater pearls are cultured in mussels grown in freshwater environment such as lakes, rivers or ponds. They are cultivated in many countries but the leading producers are China, the United States, and Japan. Most freshwater pearls are mantle nucleated, which means a small piece of tissue from a mussel donor is placed into the mantle of the host mussel. Nacre forms around the individual implanted mantle tissue pieces which eventually creates the pearl.

Freshwater pearls can be nucleated several times meaning that the yield from a freshwater mollusk is higher than that of a saltwater oyster. After the implantation procedure, freshwater mollusks are released to grow for approximately two to six years. Using this method, mollusks can be implanted many times and can generate ten or more pearls at a time.

Both natural and cultured pearls come in various shapes and forms ranging from oval, to pear, button, drop, and round. Round is the most valuable because it is the most difficult to form. While pearls with perfect symmetry are highly valued, irregular shapes such as baroque pearls are becoming more popular.

Although pearls are associated with the familiar colors of white and cream, they also occur in an extensive range of hues such as silver, gray, orange, pink, green, blue, black, yellow, and violet.

The quality of pearls is determined according to GIA's seven value factors which consist of the size, shape, color, luster, surface, and matching. The most desirable pearls feature excellent luster; they must display bright and sharp reflections.

Pearls, natural or cultured, holds a timeless appeal, making them a perfect choice for all types of jewelry.

Pearl Jewelry Showcase

Freshwater Pearl and Diamond Pendant
The Different Types of Pearls: Freshwater, Saltwater, Natural, and Cultured Freshwater-Pearl-and-Diamond-Pendant-70

Cultured Pearl and Diamond Pendant
The Different Types of Pearls: Freshwater, Saltwater, Natural, and Cultured Cultured-Pearl-and-Diamond-Pendant-69

AT: 06/01/2014 12:20:47 PM   LINK TO THIS ENTRY

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