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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Peculiarities of Pearls

If you know me, you know that I love pearls and make a lot of pearl jewelry.  So I am going to share with you a few of the many,  many different kinds of pearls that are out there. 

Real Pearl wire on a sterling silver Heart

Sterling silver ring by Zoomgraphik

But first, a little about the two basic kinds of pearls:  saltwater and freshwater.  Pearls are formed when an irritation gets inside a mollusk (an oyster or a clam).  If the pearl comes from a mollusk that lives in saltwater, the pearl is a saltwater pearl, also known as a sea pearl.  Freshwater pearls come from mollusks that live in freshwater. 

Near Round Freshwater Pearls - Bracelet by Diane's Dangles

Salt water pearls tend to be larger and rounder than freshwater pearls.  Sometimes they also may be round with a little point on top.  Tahitian, South Sea, and Australian pearls are all types of saltwater pearls.  They will naturally come in white, dark silvery grey/peacock grey, pale pinks or even gold.  

  Freshwater pearls tend to be smaller, on average, than the sea pearls.  They also often have kind of a squashed shape, more rice/oval shaped, or almost round but a little squashed on the bottom.  Freshwater pearls are much more affordable than saltwater pearls, so you see them much more frequently in handmade jewelry.

This shows the typical "squashed" look common in FW Pearls

A natural pearl is a pearl that is found naturally in the wild.  A cultured pearl means that the mollusk was induced by man to produce the pearl by inserting a nucleus, usually made from a small piece of shell.  Natural pearls are very rare, so almost all pearls available are cultured pearls.  The most prized shape is perfectly round, even though most pearls are not perfectly round. 

Pearl Hoop Earrings, Hoop Earrings,  Dusty Mint Green, Hemlock

Pearl Hoop Earrings by Maggie's  Jewelry

A pearl that is not round is called baroque.  In recent years, producers of freshwater pearls have taken to using various different shapes of nuclei resulting in some unusually shaped pearls, including diamonds, coins and crosses.  

"Mystère" - Ivory Freshwater Pearl and 14k Gold-Filled Earrings
Center drilled coin pearls, earrings by Adora by Simona

In addition, freshwater pearls are often dyed or irradiated to give them various colors.  They naturally come in a white to a pale peach color.

Twisted Pearl Handmade Necklace Torsade Green Peacock Seafoam Celadon

Freshwater pearl necklace by Shadow Dog Designs

Many pearls are drilled all the way through, and then strung temporarily on strands that are very closely matched.  Some pearls are what's called half-drilled, drilled only half way through so they can be mounted on a post.  

Half drilled freshwater drops by Shanghai Tai

The highest quality (and most expensive) pearls are perfectly round, perfectly white, have no visible flaws or grooves, and a very high luster.  However, pearls with flaws can also make wonderful jewelry, because they look very organic.  
Freshwater Pearl and Green Glass Earrings with Leaf Charms

Baroque Pearls, earrings by Pretty Gonzo

If you would like to learn more about pearls, you might enjoy this video I found which really goes into a lot of detail:   Japanese Cultured Akoya Pearls Part 1.


  1. What a fascinating look at pearls, Roxanne, with many beauties to help illustrate your points. Thank you for including my twisted freshwater pearl necklace in this post. Will share far and wide, wherever I can. Thanks again!

  2. Roxanne, you know how much I love pearls, so I really enjoyed your post. As always I am very grateful for the feature and very proud to be in such great company, thank you very much! I will share on all my social media channels. Simona :)

  3. Thank you for including my bracelet in your pearl article. Pearls are a classic jewelry accessory and goes with any outfit. I enjoyed learning about all the different types of pearls. Will share your blog.

  4. Very interesting read about pearls. I didn't realize that other shapes can be formed depending on what is introduced inside the mollusk. I think my favorite are the gray purple freshwater pearls, but the valuable pure white round shape is always classic.

  5. I ate up every word of this blog. Pearls are such lovely things. I have a few and I see that I still have most of the ones I have bought. I am so selfish with them ;)

    1. Anna, I am the same way. I have a whole bunch of pearls. I need to start using them up.

  6. Very interesting article, Roxanne! Thank you for including my earrings here. Have tweeted and off to tweet again ...

  7. Very interesting post on pearls. I learned a lot. You chose some wonderful pieces to highlight.

  8. love pearls too, will be shopping for them in Beijing at the end of September :O)
    thank you for including my pendant ....will share

  9. Lovely, lovely items!! Beautiful!!