Today, pearls are regarded as both classic and contemporary, coming in many more fashionable styles than your grandmother’s traditional strand of pearls.
Learning about types of pearls is important when adding items to your jewelry collection.
A natural pearl is formed when a small irritant or parasite penetrates and lodges in the mantle tissue of a mollusk. In response, the “invaded” tissue secretes a protective substance called nacre, a combination of crystalline and organic substances that builds and eventually after a few years develops into a pearl. Natural pearls are rare and require serious persistence to find.
A cultured pearl results from the process by which a pearl farmer induces pearl formation by inserting an irritant into the mollusk and then “cultivating” the pearl. Cultured pearls are real pearls that were not formed by accident of nature. Most pearls sold today are cultured. Note: Edible oysters do not produce nacre and thus do not produce pearls, so there’s no need to put them through an MRI before eating.
Freshwater pearls come from oysters that mature in non-saline water (from lakes or ponds, as opposed to saltwater from the sea). Freshwater pearls usually are not as round as saltwater pearls and therefore less expensive. However, the past two decades have seen a huge increase in their quality for a number of reasons, but mostly because in the mid-1990’s the pearl-farming industry changed the type of mussels they used and lowered the number of grafts inserted in the mussel, and thereby the number of pearls produced. Freshwater pearls today are a favorite of jewelry designers because of their lower cost and improved quality and availability.
Shell Pearls are made from the inner lining of oyster shells, also known as Mother of Pearl. The substance is ground to a fine powder, shaped, dyed and coated with natural pearl nacre and then a protective coating to give it lustre. Shell pearls, like most everything, vary in quality but may be quite beautiful and much less expensive than saltwater pearls. In addition, the industry’s strict quality control ensures shell pearls will keep their color and shine and will not be affected by sweat and perfume. Indeed, they are more durable than cultured and freshwater pearls.