About Genuine Pearls
Real, or genuine, pearls can be either saltwater or freshwater, natural or cultured - nearly all pearls marketed today are cultured.
Basically, a cultured pearl is created when a farmed oyster is deliberately implanted with an irritant, often a tiny bead made from mussel shell. This causes the oyster to coat the irritant with a lovely iridescent substance called nacre, commonly known as Mother of Pearl.
Natural pearls are harvested from oysters in the open seas. Also the result of reacting to an irritant, these pearls form without any human intervention or oversight. Finding and harvesting wild oysters is risky and highly regulated, hence their increasing rarity and cost.
Natural freshwater pearls, however, are much more common, but as their popularity grows, so do freshwater oyster farms and pearl culturing to meet the demand.
Saltwater pearls come from oysters native to oceans and seas. All such pearls are exports from Japan, China, Indonesia, French Polynesia, Australia and other, typically tropical, locales. The only pearl oyster in the Americas is found in the Sea of Cortez and is considered among the most beautiful and valuable of all the pearls.
Freshwater pearls come from mussels native to rivers and streams and are the "new kids" in the cultured pearl realm. Their incredible variety of shapes, sizes, colors, luster, and affordability have skyrocketed sales - and understandably so!
So, that said, when you are shopping for pearls, it's important to first determine how you plan to wear them.
For instance, if you simply love the look but don't necessarily need the real deal, selecting high quality faux pearls to wear with that sweater and jeans will satisfy both you and your budget.
Likewise, when preparing for a special night out, you'll want the confidence of knowing you are wearing genuine pearls. Real pearls have a glow, or luster, that only nature can create, and they are unique among gems in inspiring that same glow in their wearers.
Be sure to explore the short videos and quick tips on this page as they will help you with your shopping experience.
Pearls are unique. So are you. You belong together.
Q. With regard to fake pearls, what do the different terms mean?
A. These are a few of the terms used to describe fake pearls: faux, imitation, simulated, shell and coral. Quite actually, the first two terms are relatively synonymous, meaning they're all made from some kind of synthetic such as plastic, acrylic or glass, then coated or filled (as with glass) with a pearlescent finish. The quality of each definitely varies. Specifically, acrylic and glass-filled are extremely durable, with glass being the more attractive and lasting of the two, particularly if the beads are filled rather than coated.
Simulated, shell and coral pearls are comprised of more natural materials, the latter, of course, being cultivated coral. Just remember that "pearls" made from coral are simply polished, round coral beads.
Shell beads are typically made one of two ways...either the pearl is harvested from the shell as a button (half-moon), or the shell of the oyster/mollusk is ground into a powder and mixed with resin, then formed into pearl beads.
This is similar to how "simulated" pearls are often made, the difference being that it's actually pearls that are ground to powder and mixed with the resin.
Q: What about "real" pearls? Are there different kinds?
A: Yes. For this purpose, "real" is defined as having been created or finished by the oyster. The most valuable of the real pearls are those made naturally, usually by non-cultivated, or wild, oysters. Today, such pearls are rare and command very high prices.
Cultured pearls, once regarded as faux pearls from a fashion standpoint (a long time ago), are made by strategically placing a small bead inside the oyster and waiting for it to coat it with that gorgeous substance called "nacre." The thickness and luster of this coating are the primary determinants of value, which will, of course, increase with size.
Q: Are freshwater pearls considered real pearls?
A: Absolutely! Freshwater pearls are created by mollusks, too, just not the saltwater variety we typically refer to as oysters.
Initially, these pearls were collected as natural pearls until their popularity encouraged creating cultured versions. The shapes of natural freshwater pearls are rarely round, tending to be more baroque or irregular. Culturing them has produced some stunning quality pearls that rival those produced by their saltwater cousins!
A bit of trivia - the beads used to insert for culturing saltwater pearls are made from freshwater pearl shells, and most of those beads come from the United States.
Q: Shouldn't good quality pearls be perfectly round?
A: Actually, quality is determined primarily by the luster of a pearl, then by its shape, and finally by its size. You can have a perfectly round pearl (which, by the way is exceedingly rare!) that has a dull finish (poor luster) that will have a significantly lower value than a baroque or a pear-shaped pearl of extremely high luster.
Q: What are the different shapes of pearls? Is one better than another?
A: According to Pearl Guide, there are three main categories of pearl shapes:
Spherical: the "classic" pearl shape which includes round and near-round pearls.
Symmetrical: though not round, these pearls are equally proportioned. Oval, button, which are somewhat flatter on one side, and drop (teardrop) pearls fall into this category.
Baroque: not typically proportional, these gems are irregular or more free-form in shape. Pearls in this category include semi-baroque which can have an allusion to symmetry, but are slightly irregular.
Q. What are the differences among certificates?
A. I have to admit that I had the same question. Certifications validate the quality of the product, particularly where the metals used are concerned. The CNAS certificate assures the silver or gold used match the product description; e.g., "sterling silver," "18k gold."
There is no fixed international standard for grading pearls, but testing usually includes x-rays to determine how thick the nacre (natural pearl coating) layers are. The thicker, of course, the better, but there are a number of other factors involved in grading pearls like size, color and luster. If a pearl product listing lists A, AA, AAA++ grading (or above), you can typically be confident that it is a high quality gem.
Below are some of the certificate abbreviations you may encounter:
There are probably others, so I am looking forward to you sharing with me what you find. I will be very happy to look them up and confirm/deny their validity!