Different Types Of Pearls

Shimmering and elegant, pearls have been treasured throughout history for their natural beauty. These lustrous gems are found in the depths of oceans and rivers, making them unique and highly coveted. 

From ancient civilizations to modern-day fashion statements, pearls have held a significant place in society. But did you know that not all pearls are created equal? There are various types of pearls with distinct characteristics that make them special. 

Whether you're a pearl enthusiast or just curious about these fascinating gems, this blog post will take you on a journey through the different types of pearls and their defining qualities. So sit back, grab a cup of tea, and let's dive into the shimmering world of pearls together! 

Understanding Pearl Grown

Before we explore the different types of pearls, let's first understand how they are formed. 

A pearl is a result of an irritant or foreign object entering into an oyster or mollusk. In response, the organism secretes layers of nacre around the object to protect itself, which eventually forms into a pearl.

The type and quality of the resulting pearl depend on various factors such as the type of mollusk, water conditions, and the size and shape of the irritant. This process can take anywhere from a few months to several years, with longer durations typically producing more valuable pearls. 

Now that we know how pearls are formed, let's discover the different types of pearls and what makes them unique.

Different Types of Pearls 

If you are new to the world of pearls, you may be surprised to learn that there are different types of pearls. While some pearls have been prized for centuries, others have only been recently discovered and cultivated.  

Let's take a closer look at the distinct characteristics of each type: 

Natural pearls    

Natural pearls, resplendent in their rarity, emerge without any human intervention, making each gem a unique treasure. The pursuit of these pearls historically led to the depletion of oyster populations, underlining their scarcity and immense value. 

Their worth is appraised not just by size but also by their color, luster, shape, and symmetry, differentiating them markedly from their cultured counterparts. 

Cultured pearls 

In contrast, cultured pearls offer a more sustainable option, allowing for the preservation of natural oyster populations while still producing beautiful gems. 

The process, whether in saltwater or freshwater environments, enables the creation of pearls with a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, much dependent on the techniques and conditions employed by pearl farmers. 

This control over the culturing process results in a wide array of pearls, making them accessible and versatile for jewelry enthusiasts around the world.

Freshwater Pearls 

Freshwater pearls emanate a distinctive allure, primarily cultivated in mollusks. These pearls are celebrated for their solid nacre construction, bestowing them with remarkable toughness and resilience to wear. 

Often showcasing non-spherical forms, they introduce an eclectic aesthetic with a palette of natural shades ranging from classic white to peach and lavender. 

Their cultivation period spans 1 to 2 years, yielding pearls of diverse sizes and shapes, including the rare round specimens, making each freshwater pearl a unique statement of natural beauty.

Saltwater Pearls  

While freshwater pearls are formed in mussels, saltwater pearls originate from oysters. Saltwater pearls, epitomizing elegance and luxury, are nurtured in the depths of the ocean. 

Their cultivation is an elaborate affair, extending over five to seven years, which imbues them with unparalleled luster and superior quality of nacre. 

Available in a mesmerizing range of colors, from classic creamy whites to exotic golds and deep peacock hues, these pearls are renowned for their almost perfect spherical shapes and sizes that can vary impressively from 7mm to 18mm, making them treasures beyond compare in the realm of fine jewelry.

There are many types of saltwater pearls, including Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea pearls. Each type has its unique characteristics, making them prized by pearl connoisseurs and highly sought-after in the jewelry market. 

  • Akoya Pearls
      • Cultivation Sites: Cultivation sites significantly affect the quality and characteristics of pearls. For example, Akoya pearls are primarily cultivated in the cooler waters of Japan, China, and Vietnam, attributed to their high luster and quality, while the warmer waters of the Australian and Philippine seas produce the luxurious and large South Sea pearls.
      • Nacre Thickness: Nacre thickness plays a crucial role in determining the pearl's durability and luster. Cultured pearls, especially those from the South Sea and Tahitian varieties, boast thick nacre, offering them a richer and deeper glow compared to others.
      • Rare Sizes: Rare sizes add significantly to a pearl's value. South Sea and Tahitian pearls are often celebrated for their larger sizes, with diameters that can exceed 15mm, making them both rare and highly prized.
      • Natural Colors: The natural colors of pearls range from white, cream, and pink to green, blue, and black. Tahitian pearls are particularly noted for their vibrant natural colors, including deep blacks, silvery greys, and peacock greens, attributed to the unique environmental conditions of their cultivation sites.
      • Minimal Treatment: Pearls with minimal treatment are more valued, with buyers often seeking out those that have not been dyed or subjected to other color-enhancement techniques. Akoya pearls, despite common treatments, have varieties (Hanadama pearls) that are certified to have only minimal enhancements, preserving their natural beauty.
      • Value and Rarity of Shapes: The value and rarity of pearls also depend on their shape, with perfectly round pearls being the most coveted. However, baroque pearls (irregular shapes) are also appreciated for their unique beauty and individuality, contributing to the diverse appeal of pearl jewelry.
    • Tahitian Pearls
      • Cultivation Sites: Tahitian pearls are cultivated in the pristine waters of the French Polynesia islands, among small, specialized pearl farm collectives. These remote and carefully maintained environments are crucial to the development of the pearls' defining characteristics, including their color, luster, and overall quality.
      • Nacre Thickness: The thickness of the nacre in Tahitian pearls is regulated, with a minimum requirement of 0.8mm. This not only contributes to their luster but also their durability, ensuring that pearls with thinner nacre, which could compromise quality, do not reach the market.
      • Rare Sizes: Tahitian pearls can grow to significant sizes, with pearls larger than 15.0mm considered exceptionally rare and valuable. Their size range, from 8.0-9.0mm up to 15.0-16.0mm, makes them standout pieces in jewelry, highly prized by collectors and enthusiasts.
      • Natural Colors: The natural dark colors of Tahitian pearls range from Dove Greys to Charcoal Greys, with the most sought-after pearls displaying vibrant overtones such as Peacock, Green, and Aubergine. Unlike other pearls that may be treated to achieve certain colors, Tahitian pearls owe their stunning hues to the unique conditions of their cultivation.
      • Minimal Treatment: Unlike many other pearls that undergo treatments to enhance or alter their appearance, Tahitian pearls require minimal intervention. After harvesting, they typically only need a simple wash and buff to reveal their natural beauty, which is prized by purists and aficionados alike.
      • Value and Rarity of Shapes: While perfectly round Tahitian pearls are the rarest and most valuable, the majority of these pearls exhibit unique baroque shapes. This diversity in shape, including free-form baroque, circled baroque, and symmetrical smooth baroque, adds to their allure and makes each pearl distinct.
    • South Sea pearls
      • Cultivation Sites: White South Sea pearls are primarily farmed along Northern Australia's coast, and Golden South Sea pearls are mostly cultivated in the Philippine Islands, highlighting the geographical exclusivity of these gems.
      • Nacre Thickness: The thick nacre of South Sea pearls not only contributes to their luster but also their overall quality and value. With an average thickness of 2.0-4.0mm, these pearls are among the most durable and radiant on the market.
      • Rare Sizes: While the common size range for South Sea pearls is between 9.0-15.0mm, the pearls exceeding 15.0mm are extraordinary finds and command premium prices due to their rarity.
      • Natural Colors: The South Sea pearls' color palette includes natural shades of white and gold, attributed to the specific oyster varieties from which they are harvested. The "Silver-lipped" P. maxima oyster yields white pearls, whereas the "Gold-lipped" variety produces gold pearls.
      • Minimal Treatment: Unlike many other pearl types, 99% of South Sea pearls undergo no treatment other than a simple wash and buff. This minimal intervention helps preserve their natural beauty and authenticity.
      • Value and Rarity of Shapes: Perfectly round South Sea pearls are exceptionally rare, making them highly prized among collectors and jewelry enthusiasts. The more commonly found shapes include various forms of baroque, which are valued for their uniqueness and individual beauty.

    Unconventional Pearl Types 

    Besides the traditional pearls, there are unconventional pearl types that attract significant interest due to their rarity or unique characteristics. These include:

    • Biwa Pearls 

    Originating from Lake Biwa in Japan, Biwa Pearls are unique freshwater pearls known for their distinctive shapes, most commonly resembling rice grains. Available predominantly in white and pink, these pearls are occasionally found in natural green and blue hues. Believed to possess healing properties, they are said to cleanse the wearer’s mind and body.

    • Baroque Pearls 

    Baroque Pearls stand out in the world of gemstones for their unique, irregular shapes and sizes, offering limitless creativity for jewelry design. Their diverse forms, including coin, egg, rice, cross, and square, make them highly sought after for crafting one-of-a-kind, eye-catching pieces that highlight their natural beauty and individuality.

    • Keshi Pearls 

    Keshi Pearls are celebrated for their unique, unpredictable shapes and exceptional luster, making them highly desirable for contemporary jewelry design. These pearls, which may originate from either freshwater or saltwater environments, are particularly revered in the realm of saltwater varieties. Keshi Pearls also hold a special place in astrology, further amplifying their appeal.

    Different Types of Pearls Based on Shape 

    In addition to their classification by type, pearls can also be categorized based on their shape. This distinction is significant in the world of pearl jewelry, as different shapes offer unique aesthetics and creative opportunities for designers.

    • Seed Pearls

    Seed Pearls, often sourced from freshwater farms in Asia, embody delicate beauty with their minuscule sizes ranging from 2mm to 4mm. Predominantly spherical or near-round, these pearls dazzle in shades of white and cream, exemplifying elegance in fine jewelry. Their small size offers a unique appeal in intricate designs.

    • Rice Pearls 

    Rice Pearls are primarily harvested from freshwater farms across Asia, known for their distinctive elongated, rice-like shape. These pearls usually display off-white or yellowish hues and range in size from 2mm to 4mm. Their unique form and delicate size make them a popular choice for creating intricate and elegant jewelry designs.

    • Round Pearls 

    Round Pearls are celebrated for their perfectly spherical shape, making them a classic and highly desired choice in both freshwater and saltwater varieties. They are found in a broad spectrum of colors, including white, black, grey, pink, and gold, and vary in size from 4mm to a remarkable 18mm.

    • Button Pearls 

    Button Pearls, primarily cultivated in freshwater farms across Asia, present a unique semi-spherical shape that distinguishes them from other types. Available in a variety of colors including white, black, grey, pink, and gold, these pearls range in size from 3mm to 7mm, offering versatility and charm for diverse jewelry designs.

    • Coin Pearls 

    Coin Pearls are distinct for their flat, circular shape that closely resembles a coin. Cultivated mostly in freshwater farms across Asia, they come in a vibrant array of colors including white, black, grey, pink, and gold. Available sizes range from 3mm to 7mm, making them a versatile choice for unique jewelry designs.

    • Mabe Pearls or Blister Pearls 

    Mabe Pearls, or Blister Pearls, are primarily cultivated in freshwater farms across Asia, featuring a distinctive flat-back with a spherical protrusion shape. These pearls come in a myriad of colors, including white, black, grey, pink, and gold, and their sizes range from 3mm to 7mm, offering a unique aesthetic for jewelry designers.

    Which Type of Pearl Is the Most Expensive? 

    After understanding the different types and shapes of pearls, you may wonder which is the most expensive. The answer to this question depends on several factors, including rarity, size, color, luster, and overall quality.

    • Natural pearls, seen as the pinnacle of rarity and beauty, command the highest prices, ranging between $500 to $10,000 per strand, with their valuation heavily influenced by rarity, size, shape, and quality. 
    • Cultured pearls offer a more affordable alternative, with prices ranging from $100 to $1,000 per strand, depending on their cultivation method and quality characteristics. 
    • Saltwater pearls, known for their exquisite beauty and larger size, are typically priced higher than their freshwater counterparts, with strands costing anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000. 
    • Freshwater pearls, appreciated for their variety and accessibility, are the most economical, with prices varying from $50 to $500 per strand, largely due to differences in luster and quality. 

    This vast pricing spectrum ensures that pearls remain accessible to a wide range of buyers, from those seeking the ultimate luxury to those looking for affordable elegance.

    Ways to Recognize The Quality of Pearls

    When looking to purchase pearls, it's essential to understand how to recognize their quality. Luster, the most crucial indicator, refers to the quality and quantity of light that pearls reflect from their surface and inner layers. 

    High-quality pearls exhibit a bright, sharp reflection, indicating a dense layering of nacre. Surface quality is another essential aspect; while no pearl is perfectly smooth, premium pearls will have minimal blemishes or irregularities. 

    The shape also plays a significant role, with round pearls generally being the most valued, although unique shapes can also be desirable in certain designs. The color of the pearl should be uniform and pure, although preferences may vary depending on personal tastes or specific jewelry settings. 

    Finally, the size of the pearl significantly affects its value, as larger pearls are rarer and thus command higher prices. 

    Together, these factors form a comprehensive guide for assessing pearl quality, ensuring buyers can make informed decisions based on the pearls' luster, surface, shape, color, and size.


    In summary, the world of pearls offers an astonishing variety of options for enthusiasts and collectors alike. Different types of pearls not only differ in their origins, whether they're sourced from freshwater or saltwater environments, but also in their shapes, colors, and sizes, each bringing a unique charm and beauty to the table. 

    Understanding these differences is crucial for anyone looking to appreciate or invest in pearl jewelry, ensuring they find the perfect piece that embodies elegance and sophistication.