Skip to content

Freshwater pearls are created naturally in response to a threatening and/or irritating entity randomly entering a mussel’s shell, after which the intruder is coated with layers of organic matter to seal it off from the vulnerable, soft-bodied organism. This process occurs only rarely in nature, and randomly-encountered natural pearls have therefore always been extremely scarce. In fact, the Roman historian Suetonius claimed that Scotland’s river pearls were a primary motivation behind Julius Caesar’s ultimately-unsuccessful invasion of Britain in 55 BC.

However, a “culturing” process was eventually developed whereby the above chain of events could be initiated via human intervention, and the vast majority of today’s freshwater pearl farms are located within China’s remote, non-polluted lakes and rivers. With the low Chinese labor costs and large number of pearls that can be grown within a single mussel, cultured freshwater pearls tend to be far more affordable than their marine counterparts.

Saltwater pearls are created naturally in response to a threatening and/or irritating entity randomly entering the shell of a marine mollusk, usually an oyster, after which the intruder is coated with layers of organic matter to seal it off from the vulnerable, soft-bodied organism. This process occurs relatively rarely in nature, and randomly-encountered natural pearls have therefore always been extremely scarce. Historically, the most desirable and valuable natural specimens were “oriental pearls” from the Middle East’s Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, as well as the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka.

However, in 1916 a “culturing” process was patented off Japan’s south coast, whereby the above chain of events could be initiated via human intervention to produce whitish Akoya pearls. These techniques were then employed in warmer tropical waters to produce larger varieties such as blackish Tahitian pearls and white, silver or gold South Sea pearls.

Shape of Pearl

Pearls come in an array of shapes and as a natural product, each pearl is unique.

The most sought after and highly valued pearls are those that are perfectly spherical or round, only a very small percentage of cultured pearls are this shape.

A good way to tell if a pearl is perfectly round is by the way it rolls when placed on a flat and level surface, if it veers to one side, it is not round. There are six basic shapes defined at production. Shapes include:

  • Round – A perfectly round sphere. A pearl is considered round when the variation in its diameter is less than 2.5%. For example, a pearl measuring 10mm can have up to 0.25mm variance.
  • Near round – Very slightly imperfect shape, although the pearl may look perfectly spherical to the human eye, a pearl is considered near round when the variation in its diameter is more than 2.5%.
  • Drop – A drop shaped pearl will always have a longer vertical axis than horizontal axis. Pearls that fall within this category are those in the shape of a teardrop, oval or egg shape.
  • Button – Opposite to drop shaped pearls, the vertical axis of a button pearl will always be shorter than its horizontal axis.
  • Baroque – A baroque pearl is considered asymmetrical or free formed and are extremely unique. When one side of a baroque pearl is round or symmetrical it is considered semi-baroque.
  • Circle – A pearl is classified as a circle pearl when parallel grooves, bands or rings are present around the circumference of the pearl.

Color of Pearl

The colour of a pearl is primarily determined by the species of the oyster that it grows in, however the environment in which they are grown can also determine a pearl’s colour and skin texture.

South Sea pearls derive their magnificent colour and exceptional lustre from the Pinctada maxima or Silver/Gold lipped oyster. The Pinctada maxima generally produces pearls in shades of White, Ivory, Silver and Blue with brilliant iridescent overtones of Pinks and Greens, however it can also produce the natural gold range of pearls with shades of Cream, Yellow, Champagne and Gold.

Tahitian pearls occur naturally in a remarkable range of colours from Aubergine, Peacock, Green, Grey, Blue to a deep Black all with various overtones. Tahitian pearls are produced by the Pinctada margaritifera or Black lipped oyster.

Akoya pearls produce naturally radiant shades of White, Cream and Ivory. A natural gift from the Pinctada fucata martensii oyster, Akoya pearls are famous for their magnificent, deep Pink overtones.

Freshwater pearls are a product from a variety of mussel species, primarily produced in the Hyriopsis cumingii or Sankaku mussel and the Hyriopsis schlegeli or Ikecho mussel, Freshwater pearls are naturally Cream, White, Peach, Pink, Lavender and Mauve. Freshwater pearls are also commonly colour treated or dyed.


The term lustre refers to the deep, luminous glow in a pearl that is visible to the human eye, it is the result of light reflecting both from the surface of the pearl and from light refracting within the layers of nacre. The quality and thickness of the nacre will determine how brilliant and iridescent a pearls lustre will be. Lustre is considered the single most distinguishing feature that pearls have over all other gems.

Size of Pearl

All pearls are measured in millimeters (mm), using a milligauge, which is an extremely accurate measuring instrument. Pearls are generally measured by their diameter, in most cases, the larger the pearl, the more rare and valuable it is.

Baroque pearls, however, can be quite complicated to measure due to their irregular shape, they are usually measured from the widest point in their diameter or through the technique of sieving.

History of Pearl

Officially the world’s oldest gem, pearls have been revered since long before written history. For this reason, their discovery cannot be attributed to one person in particular, but it is believed that they were first discovered by people searching for food along the seashore. We know that they have been worn as a form of adornment for millennia thanks to a fragment of pearl jewellery found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess that dates back to 420 BC, which is now on display at the Louvre in Paris.

Pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC, while in ancient Rome, pearl jewellery was considered the ultimate status symbol. So precious were the spherical gems that in the 1st century BC, Julius Caesar passed a law limiting the wearing of pearls only to the ruling classes.

The abundance of natural oyster beds in the Persian Gulf meant that pearls also carried great importance in Arab cultures, where legend stated that pearls were formed from dewdrops that were swallowed by oysters when they fell into the sea. Before the advent of cultured pearls, the Persian Gulf was at the centre of the pearl trade and it was a source of wealth in the region long before the discovery of oil.

With such a long and ancient history, it is no wonder that, over time, the pearl became shrouded in myth and legend. In ancient China, pearl jewellery was said to symbolise the purity of the wearer while, in the Dark Ages, knights often wore pearls on the battlefield, believing that the precious gemstones would keep them safe. According to legend, Cleopatra crushed a pearl into a glass of wine to prove to Marc Antony that she could give the most expensive dinner in history.

Pearls have been an important trade commodity since Roman times, and the discovery of pearls in Central and South America in the 15th and 16th century led to the so-called Pearl Age. With the escalating demand for pearls in Western Europe, where ladies of nobility and royalty wore elaborate pearl necklaces, earrings, pearl bracelets and brooches, by the 19th century, demand for pearl jewellery became so high that oyster supplies began to dwindle.

Unlike gemstones that are mined from the earth, a living organism produces a pearl and, in fact, their very existence is a freak of nature. A pearl is formed when an irritant, such as a parasite or piece of shell, becomes accidentally lodged in an oyster’s soft inner body, causing it to secrete a crystalline substance called nacre, which builds up around the irritant in layers until a pearl is formed. Cultured pearls are formed through the same process, the only difference being that the irritant is implanted in the oyster rather than entering it by chance.

Until the start of the 20th century, the only way of collecting pearls was through divers risking their lives at depths of up to 100ft to retrieve the pearl oysters. It was a dangerous pursuit and one that carried limited chance of success as a ton of oysters would throw up only three or four quality pearls. Freshwater molluscs living in shallow rivers and streams were easier to gather, but these pearl beds were often reserved for harvesting by royalty.

Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a Japanese noodle maker, created the world’s first cultured pearl in 1893 by manually introducing an irritant into an oyster to stimulate it to form a pearl. The introduction of cultured pearls in the early 1900s turned the whole pearl industry on its head and caused the value of natural pearls to plummet. By 1935, there were 350 pearl farms in Japan, producing 10 million cultured pearls a year, although Mikimoto had to constantly defend himself against accusations that his pearls were not “real”. The scientific evidence spoke to the contrary; the cultivated pearls had the exact same properties as those formed in deep sea beds, the only difference was that they had a helping hand at getting the natural process started.

Mikimoto’s Akoya pearls are still used today by the jewellery house that bears his name and are renowned for their brilliant lustre and rich colours, which range from white, cream and pink, to silvery pink.

Sources of Pearl

Pearls can be found, or cultivated, in freshwater or saltwater and there are several different types of pearls depending on what mollusk they originate from. Cultured freshwater pearls are produced mainly in China and, due to their abundance, they are more affordable than their saltwater cousins. Saltwater pearls include the aforementioned Akoya as well as Tahitian pearls, which originate from Tahiti and other islands in French Polynesia. South Sea pearls hail from Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The latter is the largest of all the pearl varieties and comes in white, cream or golden hues with sizes ranging from 9mm to 20mm. A Tahitian pearl is also known as a black pearl, although its colour spectrum also includes grey, blue, green, and purple.

Types of Pearls

“Baroque” is a term applied to pearls that are non-symmetrical, and these irregular shapes are more common in freshwater pearls. While perfectly round pearls have traditionally been the most coveted, baroque South Sea or Tahitian pearls are often used in unique, contemporary jewellery to great effect.

Strictly speaking, oysters only produce pearls, but some gems that are created in other molluscs also qualify for this moniker. These include incredibly rare, oval-shaped conch pearls and yellowish-orange Melo Melo pearls. These non-nacreous pearls are formed by a substance composed mainly of calcite, and while they lack the iridescence of nacreous pearls, their beauty is no less spectacular.

Ranging in colour from yellow to coral red, with soft pink being the most popular colour, conch pearls cannot be cultivated and are only found in one in every 10,000 Queen conch molluscs. As a result, conch pearls are incredibly valuable and even a pea-sized gem can fetch as much as US$120,000. Mikimoto recently launched a collection of conch pearl jewellery, and the distinctive pink pearls have also been incorporated into jewels by the likes of Boucheron jewellery and Tiffany & Co.

Also incredibly beautiful and sought after are abalone pearls, which are among the rarest in the world as they are not cultured and only found by chance in rocky, coastal waters.

Meanings of Pearl

According to history and the myths, pearls are symbolic of wisdom gained through experience. The gems are believed to offer protection, as well as attract good luck and wealth. They are well-known for their calming effects. Pearls have a way of bringing balance to your karma.

Myths have it that pearls keep your children safe while strengthening your relationships. It is also said that these little gemstones are symbolic of the wearer’s loyalty, generosity, integrity, and purity. And, these are just some of the myths behind these precious gemstones.

Pearls are the ultimate symbol for wisdom. Valued for their calming effects, pearls represent serenity, while being able to strengthen valuable relationships and convey a sense of safety. Pearls also symbolize purity, as well as integrity and loyalty.

Benefits of Pearl

Pearl is a very famous gemstone which is found in ocean beds. It is worn both as jewelry and as a stone for astrological benefits. The original pearl stone is a flawless, smooth, shining, round stone. It has a soft glamour and attractiveness which makes it look very beautiful. It is the gemstone for the zodiac sign cancer and it is associated with the planet moon.

There are many benefits of wearing a Pearl Stone. This stone is known for its healing properties. Some of the astrological benefits of wearing a pearl stone are:

  • It enhances the power of moon, which signifies softness, charming eyes, love, family life, steady mind and many other good things.
  • A person suffering with tensed mind, indecisiveness, depression and instability in life is advised to wear pearl stone.
  • Pearl stone is recommended for those who get angry easily and lose their temper.
  • It removes the ill effects of moon and strengthens the mind.
  • It helps in reducing discomforts during sleep.
  • Problems such as throat trouble, eye trouble, dysentery are caused by afflicted moon. These problems can be reduced by wearing pearl stone.
  • It increases facial luster and beauty in ladies.
  • Pearl can be worn in combination with other stones for many other health related diseases.
  • It is believed that the person who wears pearl gets a lot of fame, respect, wealth and kingly comforts
  • It helps in neutralizing the negative planetary influences on human being.
  • It helps in increasing memory and brain power.
  • It is also said that pearl brings good fortune
  • It helps in developing harmony between husband and wife

Care Instruction

Pearls are organic gemstones that are vulnerable to acid, alkaline and extremes of humidity. To preserve your pearls’ radiance, avoid letting them come into contact with cosmetics, hair spray, or perfume. Always put on your jewelry as a final touch, after applying make-up and styling hair.
The pearl’s lustre can also be harmed by perspiration. To prevent this, before returning your pearls to the jewelry box, wipe them gently with a soft cloth.

Pearls are exceptionally cohesive and shock-resistant, but may be scratched by contact with sharp objects or other gemstones. To prevent tangles and scratches, fasten clasps and pins, then lay each item out separately in a compartmentalised jewelry box. When carrying jewelry, use a protective jewelry pouch.
Leaving pearl jewelry in a security box for long periods may cause pearls to dehydrate, so enjoy them frequently. There is a saying that “pearls want to be worn,” and it is true.
In the case of pearl rings, please be aware that these are only to be worn for dress and are not intended for everyday wear.