A ‘Natural Pearl’ is formed when an irritant accidentally gets into the soft tissue of an oyster or mollusk. As a defense mechanism, the animal produces secretions called Nacre (aka Mother of Pearl) that coats the irritant. Many layers of coating are deposited on the irritant making it smooth.
In the case of ‘Cultured Pearls’ the only difference is that the irritant is introduced into the mollusk by an obliging human rather than natural forces. After two-to-three years of nacre formation, a lustrous pearl is produced!
So, are Cultured Pearls “REAL” pearls? Absolutely!! Cultured Pearls are very real as they are still created by the mollusk’s natural defense mechanism. The only difference between Natural Pearls and Cultured Pearls is that in the latter, humans introduce the irritant into the mollusk allowing the process to begin.
There are four major types of Cultured Pearls:
Akoya— Akoya Pearls are the most familiar to jewelry customers. They are the classics, best known for their perfectly round shape and their sharp, reflective luster. When you picture a round strand of white pearls, you might be thinking of Akoya.
The name "Akoya" refers to the most famous of all pearl producing oysters, the Japanese Akoya, which are primarily cultivated in oceans off the coasts of Japan and China.
South Sea—When it comes to pearls, size matters. South Sea pearls are the largest and rarest of the cultured pearls – making them the most valuable. White & silver colored South Sea pearls come from the coastline of North-Western Australia, while golden colored ones are more prevalent in the Philippines and Indonesia.
Tahitian— Tahitian Saltwater Cultured Pearls come in a range of colors from white to black. The most beloved of these are black pearls, formed by black lipped oysters. These pearls are primarily grown around the islands of French Polynesia (the most popular of which is Tahiti).
Freshwater—Freshwater Pearls, as the name suggests, are pearls which are cultured in freshwater lakes and ponds. They’re produced in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors. China and the US are the leading sources. To learn more, read our Freshwater Pearls section on this page!