What is a Saltwater Cultured Pearl?

SuzanneB By SuzanneB, 8th Sep 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Science>Rocks & Minerals

Describing a saltwater cultured pearl, the kinds of pearls, their origin, production, quality and value.

What is a Saltwater Cultured Pearl?

A saltwater cultured pearl is an organic (from a living organism) precious gem created by a mollusk (an oyster) in a saline environment. Generally, but there are exceptions, the whole harvesting period is a color spontaneous process.

There are three kinds of pearls:

  • A Saltwater Cultured Pearl.
  • A Freshwater Cultured Pearl.
  • A Natural Pearl (very rare).

A tiny piece of tissue or bead is nucleated by a pearl farmer into the oyster and gradually over time the oyster coats the tissue or bead in many layers of natural minerals and proteins. These layers are referred to as nacre. It is the nacre that gives each pearl its beautiful luster and color.

The three common types of saltwater cultured pearls are:

  • Akoya Pearls.
  • South Sea Pearls.
  • Tahitian Pearls.

The Akoya Pearls have been produced in the Pacific Ocean in Japan for a century and in China for less than a decade. The South Sea Pearls have been produced in the Indian Ocean for half a century. The Tahitian Pearls have been produced throughout the Indo-Pacific waters for half a century.

What makes the saltwater cultured pearls so unique?

  • The Luster: the most important factor of a pearl’s quality and value is the luster. Pearls produce an intense deep shine. This effect is created when light reflects brilliance. The glowing appearance of the surface of the pearl will show reflections exactly like a shiny mirror. The more time the oyster spends in the saline environment, strong layers of nacre will accumulate and produce deep luster and a larger pearl: for an Akoya Pearl from 10 months to 2 years; for a South Sea Pearl from 20 months to 5 years; for a Tahitian Pearl from 2 to 6 years.

  • The Color: it is true that a pearl’s color is a question of personal taste according to fair skins or darker complexions. Some prefer pale colors, other darker colors. However Hanadama strand pearls, dark golden strand pearls and black peacock pearls have more value.

  • The Shape: the shape of a pearl plays a determining factor in its value; round (perfectly round in shape) has the most value; off-round (slightly flattened or ovalish in shape); semi-baroque (not round in shape – examples are pear, drop, egg and button in shape) and baroque (neither round nor symmetrical but very distorted and irregular in shape – often the surface is very uneven and they occasionally resemble such objects as teeth, cacti, tadpoles, mushrooms or snails).

  • The Surface or “orient”: pearls surface markings and blemishes (tiny surface irregularities that mar the uniformity of the exterior of the pearl) should be clean for a higher value. But sometimes very slightly blemishes do not affect the overall value of the pearls.

  • The Size: the size of a pearl is measured by its diameter which is calculated in millimetres. We have to remember Akoya Pearls range from 6.0-9.5mm and South Sea Pearls and Tahitian Pearls can reach sizes as large as 20mm. As a matter of fact one millimetre difference has been known to raise a price by between 100 and 200%.

We would like to add saltwater cultured pearls are also unique for their beauty, perfection, often exclusivity and rarity: they are masterpieces.


Jewelry, Nacre, Origin, Production, Saltwater Cultured Pearls, Value

Meet the author

author avatar SuzanneB
I was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I developed a passion and acquired a vast knowledge about saltwater and freshwater cultured pearls and decided to write articles.

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