Pearl Types | A Clear Guide To Understanding Types of Pearls

  • There are four main type of pearls
  • Freshwater Pearls
  • Saltwater Akoya Pearls (Both Japanese and Chinese)
  • Tahitian Pearls
  • South Sea Pearls

While we absolutely love the intrinsic beauty of all pearls our primary focus is within the vast field of gorgeous freshwater pearls.

By hand selecting every pearl directly from the most respected farms deep within the heart of Asia we are fortunate enough to make the beauty of fine pearl jewelry affordable to women just like yourself around the world every day of the year.

Below we have included a brief summary overview of each type of pearl for your convenience.

Freshwater Pearls:

By far freshwater pearls are the most durable and lasting cultured pearls available in the world, comprised of solid nacre they are far more adapt to withstanding chips, cracks and quality degradation though environmental conditions or accidental mishaps.

Unlike their saltwater counterparts freshwater pearls are nucleated with a razor thin 3-mm strip of organic mantle tissue, which allows the pearls to be comprised of solid nacre and not with a synthetic or plastic bead.

The freshwater pearls of today are cultivated using primarily the Hyriopsis Cumingi mussel, also commonly known as 'triangle shell' due to it's shape.

These freshwater mollusks have been used throughout China, Japan and the Mississippi River Basin of the United States.

China is the worlds primary producer of freshwater pearls today, and many producers have perfected their craft to the point of creating gem quality pearls that rival the inherent beauty and quality of more expensive and luxury branded pearls.

Freshwater pearls are available in a wide range of colors, sizes, shapes, qualities and price points.

Japanese Akoya:

Saltwater Akoya cultured pearls are produced by the Pinctada Fucata oyster, which was the first mollusk ever used to commercially culture pearls in the late 1800's.

The saltwater Pinctada Fucata oyster is native to Japan, and was the first oyster that was used to culture pearls commercially, dating back to the late 1800's.

We have cultured pearls today as a result of Kokichi Mikimoto's innovative techniques in pearl culturing. Saltwater Akoya pearls are harvested in both Japan and China.

The Akoya oyster is the smallest of pearl oysters at 8-13 cm in diameter, and due to it's small size the pearls that are produced range in size from 2mm-8mm.

This pearl oyster is known for producing pearls that are rounder, and more lustrous than any other pearl producing mollusk.

Cultivating the saltwater Akoya pearl is a very delicate and challenging procedure as less than half of the oysters survive the nucleation, and only 5% produce high quality pearls.

Pinctada Fucata oysters can only be nucleated once with up to 5 nuclei being used per oyster. After nucleation the pearl growth for the saltwater Akoya can take from 8 months to 2 years to complete.

Tahitian Pearls:

If you are as enamored by the exotic Tahitian pearl as most people are, you can thank the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster or also commonly known as the black-lipped oyster for it's creation of the Tahitian Pearl.

The black-lipped oyster is about twice as large as the Akoya oyster, and can produce pearls that are anywhere from 8-mm to 20-mm in size.

This exotic beauty was first discovered in the mid- seventeen hundreds by European explorers.

By 1850 due to demand for this rare black pearl and over harvesting these natural beauties were nearly depleted. In the 1880's strict restrictions were put in place with pearl fishing when the French gained control of the islands, saving the black-lipped oyster from near extinction.

Tahitian pearls first appeared on the international market in the mid-1970's and are commonly known as 'black pearls' because of all of the natural dark colors that they offer, as well as the black-lipped oyster that they come in. Tahitians not only come in black they also offer a range of other colors in grays, blues, greens and browns.

It is a common misconception that Tahitian Pearls are often associated with being cultivated in Tahiti, however this is incorrect. Tahitian pearls are grown in the smaller remote islands of French Polynesia that are as far away as 1,000 miles in some cases, and only accessible by small sea plane or boat.

South Sea Pearls:

South Sea pearls are grown in Pinctada Maxima oysters and can be found off of the coasts of Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand. The three main producers however are Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Beautiful South Sea pearls are known for their satin like luster, thick nacre and wonderful array of colors.

The Pinctada Maxima oyster, often referred to as the 'giant' in the trade as it is the largest of all mollusks, and can grow up to 12 inches in diameter. Due to the very large size of the shell of these oysters, the Pinctada Maxima can produce pearls as large as 10-20mm in size.

The Pinctada Maxima comes in two varieties, the silver-lipped and gold-lipped. These oysters are easily distinguished by the color on the inside of their shell at the outer edge, hence the names given to each oyster.

Silver-lipped will usually produce pearls with white or silver color, while gold-lipped will usually produce yellow to golden hued pearls.

Originally these oysters were harvested purely for the mother of pearl on the inside of their shells.

With pristine water, conditions, and a large open sea these oysters have the perfect environment to grow and flourish in.

Due to the warmth of water in the South Sea, these species deposit nacre more quickly and thicker than other mollusks in cooler water creating a beautiful warm inner glow. The South Sea pearls nacre is from 2mm-6mm thick due to the nice warm water in their natural environment

Although only one bead is placed in the Pinctada Maxima at the time of nucleation, this oyster can be nucleated up to 3 times over it's life span. The third nucleation often creates the largest pearl.

With South Sea pearls being such a luxury item at auction these pearls can command unheard of prices.

Current Special

Peach Pearl Necklace & Bracelet Set


Retail: $319.95

From: $29.95

Pearl Newsletter

shipping company logos

Pearls In Time Ltd

United States Mailing Address

Suite 1171 – 1685 H Street, Blaine, Washington, USA, 98230

Tel: 604-628-1880 | Fax: 604-628-8133

Copyright © Pearls In Time Ltd 2003 -2010. All Rights Reserved Duplication or Plagiarism of any material and or content is not permitted without the prior written consent of Pearls In Time Ltd.

payment logos