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Everything You Need to Become a Pearl Expert

There are endless pearls of wisdom to discover about our favorite gem. Did you know that pearls are one of few Organic Gemstones (they come from living organisms)? Of course, we’re biased, but pearls are considered the most important of all of the Organic Gems. They have been used for embellishment for over 6,000 years!

Pearls come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and have many different uses.

It’s our goal to not only showcase the beauty of pearl jewelry, but also to spread knowledge about what makes them so remarkable! And if we’re lucky, we will make our beloved consumers wiser shoppers in the process.

First things first, Let’s talk Quality!

Pearls are valued by a combination of qualities, such as size, color, shape, luster, symmetry and lack of any flaws on the surface (#Flawless). When it comes to high quality, the usual rule for pearl jewelry is ‘the more the better’. The bigger, whiter, rounder and smoother pearls are, the higher their quality is and the more they cost. Because no two pearls (like no two customers) are ever exactly alike, sorting pearls is an extremely difficult and time-consuming process, which can add to the jewelry’s cost as well.

Want to learn more about your favorite gemstone? Keep exploring! Follow us on Social Media for even more fun facts, jewelry styling tips & historical info about pearls. Have questions? Check out our FAQ's.

Cultured Pearls

Pearls are 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.

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 below.

Freshwater Pearls

The term ‘Freshwater Pearls’ refers to pearls that are farmed and or grown in a non-saline (Not-salty) bodies of water, like a freshwater lake or pond. These pearls are almost completely solid Nacre, meaning Freshwater Pearls are extremely durable!

For over 70 years, Honora has specialized in sourcing Freshwater Pearls of the highest possible quality. Being the largest importer of Freshwater Pearls in the US, we have the inside connections to the finest Freshwater Cultured Pearl farms around the globe. This means we get first choice for the most beautiful pearls in the most glorious colors -- at the very best prices!

Once we’ve selected the cream of the crop, we pass the savings along to YOU, our beloved customers!

Pearl Colors

While the best known Pearl color is white, Pearls can occur naturally in nearly every shade!

Pearls naturally occur in nearly every color of the rainbow. In addition to the brilliant colors Mother Nature chooses for naturally occurring pearls, Honora has worked for many years to develop a process that creates rich, unique pearl colors.

Honora is at the forefront of color innovation. Honora Pearls range the full spectrum of the rainbow. We have everything from soft, delicate hues to brilliant and bold eye-candy colors. This makes it especially easy to find pearls to go with any occasion (birthday gifts, bridesmaid jewelry) - perfect for the diverse base of customers we serve.

View our Pinterest Boards for Pearl Jewelry Styling tips by Color!

Pearl Shapes & Sizes

Pearls can occur naturally in practically every shape and size.

The eight best known shapes are: Baroque, Button, Coin, Keshi, Potato, Oval, Ringed, and Round or Semi-round! Perfectly round pearls are the rarest and are considered by many to be the most valuable (But, at Honora, we know beauty comes in ALL forms).

The general rule of thumb regarding Pearl size is this  - the longer the time a pearl spends growing in a mollusk, the larger it will eventually become.

Highlight: Carved Ming Pearls

For many years, it was common practice to cultivate up to 32 Freshwater Cultured Pearls inside of one mollusk, at one time!

In 2011, a selection of Pearl farmers, including some of our partners, began experimenting with growing just one Pearl at a time inside the center of the animal. In addition to this change, a small bead of Mother-of-Pearl would now be used to initiate growth of the pearl, as opposed to the irregularly shaped tissue used in the past.

The result of this process was very round or bubbly Baroque Ming Pearls! With more room to expand, Ming Pearls could grow up to 10-16mm, much larger than traditional Freshwater Pearls, rivaling the size of pearls from the South Sea. By growing each pearl separately, they develop without abrasions, resulting in an almost metallic luster. Their beautiful natural color can only be produced by a specific Chinese Mollusk, making them rare and valuable. These are truly a unique and high quality product.

Our carved Ming Pearl necklace (pictured above) is an incredible mixture of nature and mankind working together to create something beautiful.

This piece was made by a remarkable factory in Vietnam through a painstaking process. First, an artist drew designs on the surfaces of every Pearl by hand. Next, a master carver meticulously follows the lines, carving out details in different widths and depths. Finally the inside of these grooves are polished, resulting in an incredible lifelike pattern.

Each Pearl can take hours to create, but the result is truly magnificent.

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