PEARL TYPES: MANY FORMS OF ORGANIC SPLENDOR
Thanks to the advent of modern pearl culturing techniques, there is a wide array of different pearl types available to pearl lovers the world over featuring a rainbow of color and unique shapes at prices affordable to all. Each pearl type comes from a specific pearl-bearing mollusk, and their resulting beauty depends on a variety of factors such as water cleanliness, temperature, geographical location and nurturing. Different pearl types vary in pearl luster, pearl color, and even pearl sizes, however each one has its own beauty, its own style, and its own wonder.
The list below is a brief sampling of each pearl type you're most likely to encounter in today's marketplace.
The classic, original cultured pearl, the Akoya pearl is known for it's relatively small size, perfectly round shapes and bright, highly reflective luster shimmering with rose, silver or creamy overtones. The cultured Akoya pearl's origins date back to Japan in the early 1900's, although China has recently begun competing on the world stage as a leading Akoya pearl producing region. Akoya pearls are cultured in the smallest pearl-bearing saltwater oyster of the oyster family, the Pinctada fucata martensii, which produces pearls ranging in size from the tiniest 2.0mm up to 10.0mm or so, with the average sizes ranging from 6.5-8.5mm. Colors range from white to green, silver, pink, blue and gold, with white being the most popular and traditional hue.
These fascinating pearls are famous for their large sizes and luminous luster which shows as more of a soft glow rather than a high, glossy shine. Their large sizes are distinctive; pearls begin at 8.0-9.0mm and can get as large as 21.0mm, with their average size hovering around 10.0-15.0mm or so. Their host oyster, the Pinctada maxima silver-lipped saltwater oyster can reach up to 12-inches in diameter at maturity- the size of dinner plate! Found in the warm, tropical waters of the South Seas, P. maxima inhabits the coasts of Northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines, although it is the Australian White South Sea pearls that are acknowledged to have the finest quality with the brightest natural white and silver colors.
Perhaps the most distinctive off all pearl types, the Golden South Sea pearl shimmers with naturally golden hues ranging from Brut champagne to deep, 24K gold tone. These pearls are also cultured in the Pinctada maxima saltwater oyster species, however these oysters have a distinguishing golden lip which colors the outer mantle and mother of pearl layers spectacular shades of yellow to deeper gold. Because the Golden South Sea pearl is cultured in the same oyster genus, these pearls also have above average sizes, ranging from 8.0-9.0mm up through 20.0mm, with an average size range between 10.0-15.0mm. The most coveted Golden South Sea pearls feature a deep 22K to 24K color, which is considered extremely rare.
These black beauties rocketed onto the pearl scene during the 1970's; the very first harvest of cultured black Tahitians numbered 71 pearls in total in 1971. Quickly propelled to massive popularity by Salvadore Assael, a prominent New York pearl dealer who created a marketing campaign for Tahitian pearls featuring their stunning natural colors and overtones. The pearls are cultured in the Pinctada margaritifera saltwater oyster (translated, margaritifera means "lovely one") can be found in the warm tropical waters of French Polynesia, and typically reaches sizes of up to 1 foot in diameter. The oyster produces large pearls that range from 8.0mm up to 17.0mm or so, sometimes larger, and can live for up to 30 years in the wild. Their color classification like other pearls is split into two parts- body color and overtone. Tahitian pearls' body colors generally range from a light, dove grey to very dark charcoal grey and jet black, while their famous overtones include peacock, blue-green, aubergine (eggplant purple), rose or cherry, silver and steel or any combination thereof- truly the Tahitian pearl is one of the most colorful pearls in the world today.
Today's cultured Freshwater pearls are like nothing you've ever imagined. Lustrous, colorful, durable, wallet friendly and now available in perfectly round or intensely assymetrical baroque shapes, these gems are an easy way to make a big splash on a budget. Cultured in freshwater ponds and lakes in China using the Hyriopsis cumingii freshwater mussel or the Hyriopsis schlegeli hybrid mussel, these pearls vastly outnumber harvest output of saltwater pearls every year. The Hyriopsis cumingii mussel is an incredibly resiliant animal that can be nucleated up to 25 times on each side of the shell, and after harvest returned to the waters to rest up to be nucleated again later on. Featuring natural pastel shades of lavender, pink, peach, silver and white, pearls typically range in size from 6.0-11.0mm, sometimes larger. Their somewhat satiny luster is distinctive, casting a soft glow, and their solid-nacre make up means these pearls are extremely durable.
Conch pearls are rare, natural pearls that can only be created by the Queen Conch snail, Strombas gigas which makes it's home exclusively in Caribbean waters. Most often conch pearls will be found while collectingStrombas gigas for it's tasty meat which is is considered a delicacy, and often cooked right on the boat as fritters. Conch pearls are highly prized and very rare; their unique pale cream to orange and more famously vivid pink colors are extraordinary, and conch pearls are one of two porcelainous pearl types to exhibit "flame structure", an optical phenomenon similar to that of cat's eye chatoyancy. The more intense or visible this flame structure is, the more highly valued the pearl. Conch pearls are not nacreous pearls like the Akoya, but rather built in concentric layers of aragonite, calcite and water (along with other organic substances), making them closer to porcelain. Typically oval-ish in shape, and very rarely true rounds, sizes range from an average 2.0-3.0mm to the rare 10.0mm; weight is measured in carats. Sunlight tends to fade or bleach the delicate colors.
Intensely colorful and unique, abalone pearls are some of the most beautiful and rare natural pearls in the world. Abalone pearls develop in the univalve (one-shelled) abalone mollusk deep inside the mantle, and often take between 8-10 years to form. Common shapes include round, off-round and assymetrical baroques, along with the most recognizable, the "horn" shape. Most often seen in intense blue-green hues, abalone pearls can also be green, magenta, silver-rose, royal purples and every combination in between. For the past decade, efforts have been made to commercially culture abalone pearls- a daunting process considering that the abalone animal is a hemophiliac and will quickly bleed to death when normal pearl culturing techniques are used. Currently some success has been had in culturing mabe (half pearls with a resin backing) abalone pearls, or pearls grown on the inside of the shell and then cut out and set into jewelry designs; almost all free-standing abalone pearls today are wild, natural pearls.
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