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Pearls offer a classic and elegant look to any outfit, making it a popular choice for many jewelry lovers. But deciding between the four major types of cultured pearls can be a daunting task. Here are some important pieces of information to keep in mind before purchasing your very own pearl jewelry piece.
Freshwater pearls are the most commonly produced pearls and tend to be the most affordable. Found in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, freshwater pearls are usually cultured in freshwater lakes and ponds in China and the United States. They range in size anywhere from 4mm to 14mm. Since their mussels can produce a large number of pearls at any given time, freshwater pearls are abundant and tend to be an affordable option for many pearl lovers. However, they won’t have the same glossy, metallic finish found in other pearl types.
Akoya pearls tend to feature a more symmetrical, round shape compared to freshwater pearls and typically have a higher luster. They are rarer than freshwater pearls, making them more valuable. Akoya pearls can be found anywhere between 2mm and 11mm, with an average size of 6mm to 8mm. Around 70-80% of akoya pearls are round or nearly round. Most akoya pearls are white or cream colored and the majority of them come from Japan and China. Akoya pearls are the third most valuable pearl and rarely produce more than two pearls per mussel.
Tahitian pearls typically feature a black color and are some of the most sought-after, valuable pearls in the world. Even though they’re most commonly found in black, Tahitian pearls can range in a wide variety of colors including gray, blue, green, and purple. These pearls, which are primarily found around the islands of French Polynesia have a very thick nacre and are considered the second most valuable pearl. They range in size from 9mm to 14mm, with an average size of 9.5mm. Tahitian pearls often have a metallic luster and are cultivated from the black-lipped variety of the pinctada maxima oyster.
South Sea pearls are the rarest and most valuable type of pearl. Most south sea pearls come from the white-lipped variety of the pinctada maxima oyster. Since this type of oyster is more rare and sensitive than other oysters, south sea pearls are generally the most expensive type of pearl. They can be found anywhere from 8mm to 20mm and have an average size of 13mm. The majority of South sea pearls are cultured in Australia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. They are naturally white, cream, or silver in color and have a soft reflection and luster. Only around 10-30% of south sea pearls are round, making full strands of matched south sea pearls challenging to find.