Boring Pearl Info,...Said No One EVER!

Okay, well maybe it has been said, but thankfully I was out of ear-shot because that statement kinda hurts my feelings.

Freshwater Cultured Pearls. Photo: Michelle Buettner
I will admit that while studying Pearls at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the part about the mollusk's reproductive system was probably the least favorite part of my studies.

First off, a Natural Pearl is created in nature, by nature, without the help of any human hands what-so-ever and is extremely rare (these days anyway) and very valuable.

Freshwater Cultured Pearl Necklace - MiShel Designs

Cultured Pearls are pearls formed when humans 'assist' or 'help' the process along.

Thank goodness for the science behind Cultured Pearls, because without all of this 'boring stuff' (she whispers softly so as not to offend her pretty little gems!) it would be practically impossible for me to enjoy pearls - using them in my designs all the time - the way I do now.  

Freshwater Cultured Pearls Knotted on Genuine Leather

Yes, it's this 'boring' part (interesting science to others!) about the Mollusk's tiny, delicate, little gonads (and how he's gently sliced open so he can have things inserted into him and then carefully patched back up ) that gives us our beautiful, CULTURED pearls - whether freshwater ones or saltwater ones - and makes them readily available in today's market.

Freshwater Cultured Pearls. Photo: Michelle Buettner
It's basically what allows us to use these gorgeous gems in our own handcrafted jewelry designs.
(Insert happy dance here!!)

Freshwater Cultured Pearl Jewelry Designs - MiShel Designs

Since the Pearls! Pearls!! Pearls!!! Blog Hop I hosted back on September 15th, I've had more than the usual number of questions from people asking me about the different kinds of pearls. I've also noticed an unusually high number of articles and snippets mentioning pearls in today's world of jewelry fashion.

(Check out the WWD article about the "Pearl" exhibit that just opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London!)

Freshwater Cultured Pearl and Pewter Cross Bracelet - MiShel Designs

So today I wanted to clarify a few things and give you some additional resources to turn to so you can find more information on our beautiful little friends.

Faceted Freshwater Cultured Pearl Earrings
Copper Component - Kristi Bowman
Earring Design - Michelle Buettner
Quick Facts About Pearls:
(the non-boring, not-so-technical stuff)

There are two types of pearls - Real pearls and Imitation pearls. 

Breaking this down, there are two types of Real Pearls: Natural Pearls and Cultured Pearls. 

Natural pearls are: a pearl formed without human assistance. (found in nature, forming on it's own via natural circumstances with out any human intervention)
Cultural pearls are: a pearl formed as the result of human intervention in the formation process.  (pearls formed when humans have intervened and 'helped' the natural process along).  
Under Cultured Pearls there are two typesFreshwater Cultured Pearls and Saltwater Cultured Pearls.

Freshwater Cultured Pearls are cultured in bodies of freshwater such as lakes, etc.
Under Saltwater Cultured Pearls there are three main (most common) types, including Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea, and these are cultured in bodies of saltwater. 

Yes, Cultured pearls, whether Freshwater Cultured or Saltwater Cultured, are real pearlsNot Natural Pearls, but still real pearls.   And they both (freshwater cultured pearls and saltwater cultured pearls) come from Bivalve Mollusks (oysters, mussels, etc.) 
Natural Pearls can be distinguished from Cultured Pearls by an x-ray to reveal their inner components/structure and although I will not go into detail between tissue nucleation vs. bead nucleation or things of this nature today, I have provided links on my pearls page for those of you who are interested in learning more.  

Natural pearls are extremely rare in this day and age and therefore quite expensive, especially compared to their cultured pearl counterparts.  I'd love to be able to hold an entire strand of Natural Pearls in my hands,....oh wow.  Yep, that's on my bucket list!

As far as Imitation pearls go, there are bunches of them.  Anything such as Swarovski Crystal Pearls (awesome colors and cool shapes!), to Resin or Plastic pearls, Majorica/Majorca Pearls, or any pearl that is neither a Natural or a Cultured Pearl is an Imitation. Many people refer to these pearls as 'faux' pearls.  In the industry, we refer to them as Imitation.
For future reference, the above information is available on my "Pearls" page here on my blog.

Freshwater Cultured Pearls. Photo: Michelle Buettner
Also on my Pearls Page are some excellent and trusted resources to turn to for such things as the history of pearls, pearl farming, definitions of various pearls (more thorough and in depth than the ones I have provided) and resources to turn to should you need to have your pearls appraised (I can only grade pearls, not appraise them, because I don't hold an appraiser's license) or to obtain identification or classification reports.

Freshwater Cultured Pearl and Swarovski Crystal Necklace
MiShel Designs

Oh, and then there's the fun stuff like, Famous Pearls!
(I know, I'm such a geek!)

In May 2013, a single strand of natural pearls (pictured above) sold at auction in Geneva
 for nearly $8.5 million setting a world auction record. (source: Forbes Magazine)

I truly hope this small intro into pearls has heightened your awareness of these gorgeous beauties and that they will find their way into your heart like they have mine!

Freshwater Cultured Pearls and Sleeping Beauty Turquoise

If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

And, if I don't know the answer, I'll do my best to point you in the direction of someone who does! :-)

Freshwater Cultured Pearl Charm Necklace and Earring Set - MiShel Designs

Until Next Time,
Peace, Love and PEARLS, Baby!!



  1. You wrote a Great and Informative post here, Shel :-) Thanks!

  2. I love this blog and all the information you are providing about pearls. I actually did a google search many years ago trying to find out the specifics of pearls and you have done an excellent job of explaining all of this. You have some gorgeous pearls in your pieces and I would love to see some resources for some of these (unfortunately I don't have a resale license so I can't buy wholesale). I am curious as to the different colors obtained on these cultured pearls. Great info Michelle. Great designs! Love your work.

    1. Thank you very much Linda! First, the colors of freshwater cultured pearls - most of them are dyed and this is why they can come in vibrant blues, reds, browns, greens, etc. Some are natural in their color - like those huge, funky shaped pearls (some of these are called 'flame' pearls - because of they way they are nucleated and harvested) towards the top of my article - the necklace pic right under the pretty little 'innards' pic of the mollusk. Here's a link giving you some info on 'flame pearls'
      Also, some of the white colors of freshwater pearls are 'bleached' so they have a more white and/or creamy, consistently matching color.
      As for resources - I have a couple of links up over on the Pearls Page of the blog here,...towards the bottom of the page. But, here's a couple of resources for great pearls that don't require a wholesale license:
      Ayala's Originals - I buy from her at the gem show each year, but she has a really nice online store and she loves pearls and carries some really nice ones.
      Nina Designs - Nina always has nice pearls.
      Rio Grande - they have such a mix - single pearls, strands, 1/2 drilled, super great quality to a little less than desirable and it depends on what you're looking for, but they do have several sizes/kinds/colors, etc. to choose from.
      I hope this gives you a couple of places to check out and look at.
      I think you have some great points in your comment and this might make for a really good blog post - I'll start working on it! ;-)
      Thanks for reading and for commenting, I really do appreciate it!

  3. You are so generous with your knowledge and experience with all things pearly. Sharing the love! But, ew! Sticking your hands into that mollusk! The things we do for love.


  4. What a great informative post. And kudos on your blog hop. I will need to pay closer attention since I missed it and would have loved to participate. How great to have such joy for your subject!


Thanks for sharing what you have to say - I love hearing your comments!