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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.