Online shopping is difficult- will it fit? How big is it? Do my earlobes look like that model's earlobes? Believe us, we completely understand! Then add things like mm sizes and words like Hanadama?! Our team had to complete a 9 part course to wear the Certified Pearl Specialist crown. We don't expect every customer shopping for a pearl necklace to know the difference between Tahitian pearls and Freshwater pearls' nacre thickness. BUT we can offer a helpful blog to put pearl shopping in layman's terms for all to enjoy. Let's become a pearl shopping pro!
Okay, we're going to break this down by the four main pearl types. Now, there are "Subcategories" within each pearl type that we will discuss, but if you know the main four and how to differentiate between them- you're golden. Kind of like the 5 major food groups- we all know them but we don't know if the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable and that doesn't matter because we're still adding them to our salads!
Freshwater pearls: Named Freshwater because... they grow in freshwater bodies of water! Off to an easy start, right? These are the pearls you probably have seen a lot lately while scrolling through your social media feed because they are getting a fresh rebranding in the fashion industry. Once coined as the low-end "Rice Krispy" pearls, Freshwater pearls are at a lower price point because they are more abundant than saltwater pearls. One mollusk can produce up to 50 pearls a harvest! Talk about a hard worker! Regardless of price point, these pearls can be funky shapes, and fun colors, and are still precious!
Akoya pearls: What is the opposite of Freshwater? Saltwater, of course! Named after their shell, Akoya-gai mollusk, Akoya pearls are the matriarch of cultured pearls. First cultured in 1916, these have been revered for their mirror-like luster and are considered the gold standard for cultured pearls today.
Tahitian pearls: Naturally dark in color, these exotic pearls were met with skepticism when first introduced to the world, but soon were cherished as a symbol of status and prestige. The Tahitian pearls are classified as the "black pearl," but we think that is a bit of an overstatement since these pearls come with a rainbow of overtones. Their color isn't the only thing intriguing about these pearls, their shapes and sizes make a true one-of-a-kind statement.
South Sea pearls: Make room for the queen! Large and in charge, these pearls are considered the "Rolls Royce" of pearls, and for good reason! The pearl farmers in Australia grew these pearls in remote and pristine bodies of water and introduced bold, new perliculture techniques which resulted in pearls with colors as luxurious as gold itself. We mean it when we say the Rolls Royce of pearls!
Pearl Color: GREAT, now we know each pearl type's name! Let's talk about colors. When you think of pearls you think of what color? White! Of course. That is because you have probably only seen white pearls on tv or vintage fashion magazine covers. Well, there are other pearl colors in the world! Let's jump into the rainbow of pearl colors!
Freshwater Pearls: The first stop on the pearl rainbow is our friendly Freshwater pearls!
- White: Timeless, classic, and yes, all-natural! The main overtones you will see in Freshwater pearls are cream/ivory, rose, and silver!
- Lavender: YUP! Freshwater pearls can be naturally lavender. We don't mean white body with lavender overtones here. We are talking about the body of the pearl is ~lavender~! And just like the white pearls, lavender pearls can vary in shades of lavender. From bold to pastel, we've seen them all, and we HAVE them all!
- Pink to Peach: Copy and paste! YES, these are naturally occurring colors in Freshwater pearls. The body of the pearl is pink/peach with a variation of different shades- from bold to pastel.
- Black: Not copying and pasting this section because black Freshwater pearls are not natural. This black color is achieved through a permanent, organic dying process. The body of the pearl is, well... black! But, the dying process can leave different overtones for black pearls as well! Green, peacock, purple and blue overtones can all be found in a strand of black pearls! Now, artificially dyed black pearls can feel "wrong" for a pearl purist, but we think they're quite fun and edgy!
Akoya pearls: We're talking all about overtones!
- White: One of the questions we get asked a lot is if Akoya pearls are dyed. The pearls go through a pinking process, a standard method for all white Akoya pearls, which treats the pearls with organic red dye, which gives Akoya pearls their characteristic pink overtone. This process does not mask any flaws of the pearls but enhances the pearl's natural beauty. BUT did you also know that they can come in different overtones other than pink? An Akoya pearl's body color is white, but some can have more of a silver overtone, their characteristic pink overtones, and even a cream overtone! Basically a white pearl with different variations of a sun tan- (No pearls do not sunbathe!)
- Silver-Blue: Completely natural, and technically an accident! Due to a grafting error, these pearls have been around as long as cultured Akoya pearls but were tossed because they were not deemed valuable- white pearls were always ideal! With their new found glory, these unique mistakes are now viewed as rare and valuable!
- Black: Not natural, but still very cool! If white Akoya pearls were deemed unusable due to their color, they may be treated with either a Cobalt-60 radiation treatment or treated with an organic dye. Although not natural, they do make quite the statement!
Tahitian pearls: Ah, the classified "black pearl" with the most colorful overtones... this one will be fun! The body of Tahitian pearls is either light, medium, or dark gray with a vast rainbow of overtones: peacock, pistachio, silver, steel, bronze, green, rose, aubergine... the list goes on. We'll break down the 4 main critically acclaimed overtones for you.
- Peacock: Considered the most valuable overtone, the peacock can best be described as an iridescent mix of blue-green with a cherry center hue. The overtone shows up best on pearls that range from a medium to dark charcoal gray body color.
- Silver: The silver overtone can help Tahitian pearls appear larger and brighter than their actual measurements! This is because light reflects off their surfaces at a higher rate!
- Blue-Green: Green is the most common color found which can range from a green haze to deep emerald green. True blue colors are rare and often mixed with green, allowing for an alluring aquamarine tone. Blue overtones can occur on pearls with pale-gray to nearly black body pearls, but darker pearls with intense color saturation are highly valued!
- Aubergine: This overtone is a mix of violet and purple, but pearls with a deeper violet overtone and less green, purple, or blue are described as "Cherry Tahitians."
South Sea pearls: These come in two strikingly different body colors, but both are rich in overtones!
- Golden: Remember when we referenced these as the Rolls Royce of pearls? Yeah, this is one of the reasons why! Just like the Tahitian pearls, Golden South Sea pearls have a gold body color, ranging from light, medium, and deep gold. The deeper 24 Karat-colored pearls are considered the most valuable. And just like other pearls, these have different overtones!
- Neutral: A transparent secondary tint of yellow over the main body color.
- Bronze/green: Has subtle to noticeable tinges of green over the golden body.
- Rose: Offers a hint of pale to deep pink tint and enhances the pearl's warmth and luster.
- Champagne: Creamier golden color and named for the resemblance to champagne wine (yum!)
- White: Beautiful displays of bright white or silvery-white body colors and just like other white pearls have a dazzling range of overtones.
- Rose: This is a rare and valuable overtone that ranges from very faint to a more saturated hint of pink.
- Silver: Most White South Sea pearls exhibit bright white or silver-white body color which gives the pearls more of a cooler tone.
- Silver-Rose: One of the most sought-after overtone colors for White South Sea pearls. An Optimal combination of subtle blue and pink overtones can be seen over the bright white body color.
- Silver-Blue: This color is almost unique to South Sea pearls. The body color of a silver-blue pearl will appear as a pale dove gray color with blue overtones.
- Yellow/Cream: Not the same as true golden pearls, but White South Sea pearls with yellow/cream overtones do have a touch of that beautiful champagne color (again, yum!)
Pearl Shapes: WHEW! Still with us? Let's move on to pearl shapes! Wait... not all pearls are round? *GASP* That is correct. We have to realize that there are other shapes in the world of pearls! Drop, baroque, round, fireball... OH MY! Let's dive in.
- Round: The ones we all know and love! Round pearls are more valuable than other shapes for their perfect symmetry. Truly round Freshwater pearls account for less than 0.01% and are normally found in small sizes!
- Drop: Quite literally named for their resemblance to teardrops. These are happy tears though! Symmetrical, smooth, and pointed. Drop pearls can be found in:
- Freshwater pearls
- White South Sea pearls
- Golden South Sea pearls
- Tahitian pearls
- Baroque: Irregularly shaped, no symmetry, and FUNKY! Each pearl is unique, but nothing quite feels one-of-a-kind like a baroque pearl. All the natural grooves and curves reflect light best showcasing the colors of pearls. Baroque pearls can be found in:
- Freshwater pearls
- Akoya pearls
- Tahitian pearls
- White South Sea pearls
- Golden South Sea pearls
- Fireball: Yup. You guessed it! These are pearls shaped like an actual fireball. These fall in the baroque category, but anything named "fireball" deserves its own little blurb. Think of a round(ish) pearl with a tail of flames! Or a comet flying through our atmosphere! This shape pearl is exclusive to Freshwater pearls... Lucky them!
Pearl Size: Now this topic of pearls we get asked about most. How big is a pearl? Well, the answer is that it ranges! The average range is 3mm to 15mm. Now, of course, there are some pearls as large as 55mm, but that's like finding an authentic Van Gogh painting at a garage sale- VERY RARE!!
- Freshwater pearls: The average size for Freshwater pearls is 7-8 mm but their size range is from 1 mm to 15 mm!
- Akoya pearls: Average size is around 7 mm, but Akoya pearls can be as small as 1 mm and up to the very rare 10-11 mm!
- Tahitian pearls: Now in a change of events, the most popular size is 9-12 but Tahitian pearls can get as small as 7 mm and as large as 18 mm! Tiny Tahitian pearls are very rare and are actually less valuable than larger pearls. This is because Tahitian pearls that are as small as 5 mm lose their luster and bold colors.
- South Sea pearls: Much like Tahitian pearls, South Sea pearls smaller than 8 mm start to lose the qualities that make them South Sea pearls (large and in charge!) The average South Sea pearl is around 12 mm, but their range is from 8 mm to a whopping 20 mm!
Pearl Luster: Single-handedly the most important factor in determining the value of a pearl is the luster!
- Freshwater pearls: A typical Freshwater pearl's luster can best be described as silky. A Freshwater pearl with excellent luster will not be as lustrous as Akoya pearls, but there is the exception of Metallic Freshwater pearls.
- Akoya pearls: When we say mirror-like luster- we're always talking about Akoya pearls! The most valuable Akoya pearls have mirror-like quality, displaying recognizable objects and light reflections on their surface; reflections will appear crips and sharply defined!
- Tahitian pearls: Typically, Tahitian pearl's luster is silkier, but you can spot high luster Tahitian pearls when they clearly reflect sharp edges of light with little to no blurring.
- South Sea pearls: They're known for their satin-like luster. This isn't that mirror-like reflection you would see in Akoya pearls but has a greater sense of depth.
We understand the complexity of pearl knowledge! This is a lot of words to describe beautiful gems from mother earth. We do offer virtual appointments for anyone wanting to dabble in pearl jewelry but is a little overwhelmed to get started. Regardless of how you shop for your pearly pieces, just remember these important factors listed above: luster, color, size, and shape- also known as L.C.S.S (just kidding!) We hope you can now pearl shop in confidence! Happy pearl shopping!