What Are the Different Kinds of Pearls?

Posted on June 09, 2016 by Mary Hood | 1 Comment

 What Are the Different Kinds of Pearls? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Barbara Michelle Jacobs Morganite Gemstone and Pearl Ring

Pearls are adored for their unique qualities and prized for the way they tend to ooze class as sophistication. Naturally, they have a rich history. Before investing in pearls, it’s important to know a little background information about the different kinds of pearls. Unfortunately, there is no officially recognized, standard system of grading pearls (except in the case of Tahitian pearls whose grading is managed by the French Polynesian government). Therefore, pearl grading may vary depending on the company from which you are purchasing pearls. A comprehensive grading system should include information about pearls’ luster, surface, shape, and color. The size of the pearls in specific piece should be stated clearly.

There are two main variety of pearls: freshwater and saltwater. Saltwater pearls are grown in bays, inlets, and atolls around the world and are generally more valuable than freshwater pearls.  Freshwater pearls are typically grown in man-made lakes and reservoirs in China. Within these two varieties of pearls, there are four commonly recognized categories of pearls:


Akoya pearls are usually considered the most “classic” variety of pearls and have been the pearl of choice for classic pearl jewelry—like a simple strand of pearls. For nearly 100 years, Akoya pearls been grown off the coast of Japan. Although they sometimes come in rare baroque shapes (baroque = irregularly shaped), they are most often round and have a brilliant luster. Likewise, while there is a chance than an Akoya pearl may be silver or bluish, they are usually white. Most Akoya pearls are produced between 4 and 10 mm.

 What Are the Different Kinds of Pearls? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Mikimoto Akoya Pearls


These pearls tend to be more affordable and are often the choice for fashion-forward pieces, especially those with a fun, bohemian vibe. Freshwater pearls are known for their baroque shapes. They come in a variety of colors, ranging from white to pastel. They generally have a soft luster, expect in the case of rare metallics. Freshwater pearls are normally grown 5-12mm, but recent advances have allowed some freshwater pearls to grow as large as 20mm.

 What Are the Different Kinds of Pearls? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Barbara Michelle Jacobs Vine and Pearl Gold Ring


Tahitian pearls are grown in French Polynesia and are sometimes referred to as “Black South Sea Pearls,” but these are not to be confused with south sea pearls, the fourth category of pearls (see below). Tahitian pearls are the only naturally dark pearls. Although they’re often called “black,” they come in a range of colors and often have a rainbow-like gradation on a single pearl. Round Tahitian pearls are rare while drops, ovals, and baroque shapes are more common—though still quite valuable. These pearls are grown 8-15 mm.

 What Are the Different Kinds of Pearls? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Super Fine Tahitian Pearls

South Sea Pearls

Primarily grown in Australia and the Philippines, South Sea pearls range from white to gold and range in size from 8-18mm. (Their most common size is 10-14 mm, however.) These are the largest saltwater pearls grown today. Like Tahitian pearls, these pearls most often come in drop, oval, and baroque shapes. Considered the most valuable pearls on the market, South Sea pearls make impressive statement jewelry. 

 What Are the Different Kinds of Pearls? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Tiffany & Co. South Sea Pearl Pendant

What is your favorite kind of pearl?

Photos: Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry, Shreve & Co. Pearl Paradise, Tiffany & Co.

Posted in freshwater pearls, informative, pearl jewelry, pearls, saltwater pearls



1 Response


August 08, 2016

Wow, beautiful post. Freshwater pearls are nurtured in the non-saline environment and developed in freshwater mussels or oysters. The cultivation is initially originated in China. 95% of the freshwater pearls sold in the world market are produced in China. Pearls are looking so natural and pretty. Recently I have a purchased real freshwater pearl necklace for my mom from Timeless Pearl online shop. It looks gorgeous. Thanks for the valuable information.

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