glossary: all you need to know about pearls

Written by Katie Graves
13.05.2019, 11:00

Pearls are timeless, a classic, and recently we’ve seen them all over the high street worn in more modern ways. Natural pearls originate from the ocean or lakes and are very much considered an organic gem. A single pearl strand necklace, dropped earrings or a dainty pearl ring will make an outfit that little more elegant.

There are a few different types of pearls, so here’s a guide to all the types that you will find!

Pearls have been used to symbolise the moon in some cultures and thought of to be slightly magical. Some cultures identify them with modesty, and other see them as protectors against evil. The Victorians even used them as mourning jewellery due to the tear drop shape of some pearls.

| Freshwater Pearl | Saltwater Pearl | Tahitian Pearl | Cultured Pearl | Mother of Pearl |

Freshwater Pearl

A Freshwater Pearl is made in a mussel in freshwater (a pond or lake etc.) with no human interaction. They are usually pastel colours such as white or pink and can be round, or teardrop shaped. Generally they are found in places such as the USA, Japan and China.

Saltwater Pearl

A Saltwater Pearl is a natural pearl made in saltwater (aka the sea) with no human interaction. They originate from the seas near Thailand, Australia and other parts of Asia such as China. Types of saltwater pearls include the Tahitian, South Sea and the Akoya Pearls. The Saltwater Pearl is usually more expensive than the Freshwater Pearl due to it’s exposure to nacre (see below).

Tahitian Pearl

Tahitian pearls are considered the most unique of them all. They are darker than other pearls but still have a range of colours, including black! They come from Tahiti itself but also the French Polynesian islands.

Cultured Pearl

Cultured pearls are slightly different to natural pearls, due to human interaction. A shell will be opened and an object placed inside, leading to different shapes as required. Nacre will coat the object for as long as it is left in place, and the longer this is left to thicken, the quality and size of the cultured pearl increases.

Mother of Pearl

The Mother of Pearl is the name for the iridescent coating on top of the pearl and it helps to protect them from parasites. Mother of Pearl, and another coating called nacre (the coating that actually helps form the pearl itself) are often mistaken for one another, but the Mother of Pearl has a distinct glow and colouring to identify itself.

Pearl Shape Classifications

Pearls come in various shapes and sizes, and no two are alike. Spherical pearls (the most common) are rounded and the price will rise with how perfect the round shape is. The symmetrical shape are like a pear shape, with both sides being symmetrical (like a mirror image). Lastly, the baroque shape are irregular, cheap, and the most unique.

Care Tips for Pearls

Pearls should be wiped down after use to ensure that no perfume or body lotion is left on them. They should be left in a silk pouch, or at least away from other metals or diamonds. Any dry or airless place may dry the pearl out. Don’t forget to take them off when in the shower or doing exercise! Check on them at least once a year to see if any are broken, discoloured of fraying. You could also take them to be professionally cleaned too!

Hopefully our glossary has been helpful to find the right pearl for you.