Picking Out the Right Pearl for You

Rick Terry Jewelry / Pearls  / Picking Out the Right Pearl for You

Picking Out the Right Pearl for You

When it comes to choosing a pearl type for your necklace or earrings, there are now so many to choose from. Far more varieties, shapes and colors than in years past. The specific characteristics you should consider are type, shape, color, and luster and of course size.

Cultured Pearls vs. Natural Pearls

Natural pearls, very rare and hard to find in nature. Most pearls sold today are cultured. To create a cultured pearl, pieces of material varying in size are implanted into the oyster or mussel. These pieces of material aggravate the oyster or mussel and cause it to produce and coat the bead in many layers of natural minerals and proteins, referred to as nacre (pronounced Nay-Ker). It is the nacre that gives pearls their beautiful luster and color.

So for a pearl to be created naturally, this material must find its way into the animal by chance. This is why pearl farms have sprung up where the farmers place the material inside of the animal to cause it to produce the nacre to coat the material eventually producing a pearl.

Cultured pearls and imitation pearls can be distinguished from natural pearls by X-ray examination. Cultured pearls are often ‘pre-formed’ as they tend to follow the shape of the implanted shell bead nucleus. Once the pre-formed beads are inserted into the oyster, it secretes a few layers of nacre around the outside surface of the implant before it is removed after six months or more.

When a cultured pearl is X-rayed, it reveals a different structure to that of a natural pearl. A cultured pearl shows a solid center with no concentric growth rings, whereas a natural pearl shows a series of concentric growth rings.

Pearl Types

There are now many types of pearls to choose from. Some of them are: Aokya cultured saltwater pearls from the Akoya oyster. Freshwater pearls from mussels rather than saltwater oysters.

South Sea and Tahitian

Black pearls, frequently referred to as Black Tahitian Pearls, are highly valued because of their rarity; the culturing process for them dictates a smaller volume output and can never be mass produced. This is due to bad health and/or non-survival of the process, rejection of the nucleus and their sensitivity to changing climatic and ocean conditions. Before the days of cultured pearls, black pearls were rare and highly valued for the simple reason that white pearl oysters rarely produced naturally black pearls, and black pearl oysters rarely produced any natural pearls at all.

Since the development of pearl culture technology, the black pearl oyster found in Tahiti and many other Pacific Island areas has been extensively used for producing cultured pearls. The rarity of the black cultured pearl is now a “comparative” issue. The black cultured pearl is rare when compared to Chinese freshwater cultured pearls, and Japanese and Chinese akoya cultured pearls, and is more valuable than these pearls. However, it is more abundant than the South Sea pearl, which is more valuable than the black cultured pearl. This is simply because the black pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera is far more abundant than the elusive, rare, and larger south sea pearl oyster Pinctada maxima, which cannot be found in lagoons, but which must be dived for in a rare number of deep ocean habitats or grown in hatcheries.

Black cultured pearls from the black pearl oyster – Pinctada margaritifera – are not South Sea pearls, although they are often mistakenly described as black South Sea pearls. In the absence of an official definition for the pearl from the black oyster, these pearls are usually referred to as “black Tahitian pearls”.

The correct definition of a South Sea pearl is a pearl produced by the Pinctada maxima pearl oyster. South Sea pearls are the color of their host Pinctada maxima oyster – and can be white, silver, pink, gold, cream, and any combination of these basic colors, including overtones of the various colors of the rainbow displayed in the pearl nacre of the oyster shell itself.

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