pearl overtones: the ultimate guide to selecting the right overtone of pearls

There are a lot of mysterious-sounding terms when it comes to pearls, and “overtone” is definitely one of them. So we created this short article to clear up any misunderstandings about pearl overtones, and which one would look the best on you.

Use the links below to skip to different sections of this article, and to see how the most popular white pearl overtones look against different skin tones.

Table of Contents

Use these links to navigate this article:



White Pearl Overtones

The three most common overtones you’ll encounter are for white pearls: Rose, Silver and Cream.These three overtones will be the same for white Japanese Akoya, white Freshwater and White South Sea pearls, although their degrees of intensity will vary from pearl to pearl.

  • White Akoya Overtones
  • White South Sea Overtones
  • White Freshwater Overtones
Akoya pearl overtones: rose, cream/ivory, silver

The vast majority of Akoya pearls undergo a process called "Bleaching and Pinking" directly after harvest; this removes strong greenish colors that this pearl type naturally features, and embues the pearls with a pastel sparkle that complements any complexion. Mikimoto pearls is known for their traditional Rose overtones, and Tiffany's specializes in Akoya pearls with bright Silver hues.

white south sea pearl overtones: rose, silver, cream

For White South Sea pearls, the most common overtone you’ll find is a bright Silver, and Rose is the most rare (and valuable!). Cream can be gorgeously complex, with hints of violet and bright flashes of magenta shimmering over the surface, so don’t count Cream out! Generally overtones for White South Sea pearls are a bit softer and less intense than that of the Japanese Akoya.

white Freshwater pearl overtones: rose, cream, silver

With Freshwater pearls, you’ll find a lot of Creamy hues and Rose overtones in each harvest, and Silver is the least prevalent.

White Pearl Overtones, Explained:

SILVERis the most popular white pearl overtone. Closest to a true, bright white color, the Silver overtone comes the closest to what most people believe a pearl ”should” look like.

  • Who Will Love It:Women with dark or olive complexions, or those who tan easily. Women with black or dark brunette hair also wear the Silver overtone well.
  • Why They’ll Love It:The bright white body and “cooler” undertones (primarily shades of blue and green) of the Silver pearl overtone contrasts the darker skin tones and hair colors and helps these pearls optically enlarge to appear larger, brighter and whiter.
  • Recommended Pairings: The Silver overtone is really versatile, and looks beautiful with both white gold and yellow gold accents. White gold will generally enhance the pearl’s “cool” undertones, helping them appear brighter and whiter. Yellow gold creates a nice, elegant contrast – a very classic pearl look.

ROSEis the most Traditional White Pearl Overtone. Rose (or rosé as it is also called) features a faint to deep pink blush of color over the white body color of the pearl.

  • Who Will Love It:Women with fair complexions, blondes and light to medium-dark brunettes.
  • Why They’ll Love It: Rose is a “warm” overtone, so yellow and faint pink undertones to the skin and lots of warm highlights like yellow gold help this pearl light up and sparkle!
  • Recommended Pairings: Yellow gold is traditionally chosen for this pearl overtone; it warms up the pearls and increases that special sparkle factor. White gold is chosen often for younger ladies who prefer the cooler tones. White gold with rose overtones cools the pearls down, helping to mute the pink hues in the pearl surfaces.

CREAM / IVORYis the Third Most Popular Overtone. And my personal favorite. Cream is best described as a hint of French Vanilla over the white body color of the pearl.

  • Who Will Love It: Cream is an excellent choice for red heads, older women with grey or silver hair and those of us who blush easily or have a lot of pink/red undertones to their complexions.
  • Why They’ll Love It:The cream pearl overtone is a “warm” overtone that compliments rather than contrasts with pinks and reds; these pearls will warm up against the deeper complexions and sparkle nicely. The finest Cream overtones feature flashes of violet color, and add a nice sense of “depth” to the pearl’s surface.
  • Recommended Pairings: Yellow Gold all the way, babe. Cream/Ivory is one of those overtones that’s definitely on the warmer side (plenty of yellow in there), so you want to complement this hue, not fight with it. White gold can be a bit on the “clashy” side unless you have the exact right shade of Cream.

Black Pearl Overtones

Cultured Tahitian pearls are the naturally black pearls grown in the tropical lagoons and atolls of French Polynesia. Their primary body colors aren’t truly black, but range in color from the palest Silver and Dove Grey to Very Dark Charcoal Grey.

Their secondary overtones are a literal rainbow of colors, but the most famous and popular are Peacock, Silver/Steel and Blue-Green. Other “exotic” and famous overtones are colors like Aubergine (eggplant purple), Cherry, Sky Blue, Pistachio, Chocolate and more.

popular Tahitian pearl overtones

Black Pearl Overtones, Explained:

PEACOCK is a varied mix of Green, Gold and Rose hues, shimmering over either a light or dark grey body color.

  • Who Will Love It: Everybody! The Peacock overtone is varied and beautiful – these pearls can be light-toned or dark-toned, cool or warm-hued depending on the amount of colors present on the surface.
  • Why They’ll Love It: Lighter grey Peacock Tahitian pearls work well for blondes, or those with pink undertones as the pearls reflect greater amounts of light, and offer less contrast against skin tones that don’t handle intense colors well. Darker Peacock Tahitian pearls work beautifully for dark, tan or olive complexions, or for women with very pale complexions with dark brunette to black hair.
  • Recommended Pairings: Depending on the colors in the pearls you want to play up, Peacock overtones can go with either white or yellow gold. White gold accents intensify the cooler end of the Peacock spectrum, enhancing the greens and hints of blue tones. Yellow gold mountings will have a warming effect on the pearls, bringing out their golden, warm green and rose hues.

SILVER / STEEL Tahitian overtones can best be described as a Silvery-grey to pale white sheen shimmering over a light to dark Charcoal Grey body color. They can also contain hints of Rose or Aquamarine/Green that add a little splash of color to keep it interesting.

  • Who Will Love It: Anyone will look good in Silver Tahitians, but fair complexions and blondes will benefit the most from this overtone. That goes double if she has pink or reddish undertones to her complexion and can’t handle heavy contrasting colors. Women who wear a lot of pastel shades will benefit from the diffuse colors of the Silver overtone.
  • Why They’ll Love It: Silver Tahitians reflect the most amount of light, making the pearls appear brighter and larger than they really are. The higher rate of light reflection and the paler colors create less of a contrast
  • Recommended Pairings:White gold clasps, bales and mountings are the obvious choice for Silver Tahitians, which are very complementary. To rev up secondary colors like Aquamarine or Rose tints, then use yellow gold accents.

BLUE-GREEN Tahitian overtones are the second most-popular and prevalent overtone for Tahitian pearls. Usually mid to strongly saturated, the blue-green overtone is a bright splash of color over a medium to dark Charcoal grey body color.

  • Who Will Love It: Women with dark hair and pale complexions, red heads and winter complexions will dazzle in the Blue-Green Tahitian overtones.
  • Why They’ll Love It: The darker jewel-tones of the Blue-Green overtone really have their chance to shine in high-contrast outfits and complexions.
  • Recommended Pairings:White gold is the most popular choice to wear with blue-green overtones. White metal accents help cool down the pearls, and enhance the unique blue hues present on the pearls. Use yellow gold if you want to play up the warmer green hues on the pearls instead.

Gold Pearl Overtones

Golden South Sea pearls can be a little bit tricky for some of us. These naturally-colored pearls feature subtle overtones of Rose, Neutral Gold, Silver, Green/Bronze and Champagne*. These secondary colors shimmer over primary body colors of gold that range from paler 10K gold to the deepest (and orange-y) 24K tones. Deeper and more intense the golden hues are more valuable than paler colors.

Golden South Sea pearl overtone options

Explaining Golden Pearl Overtones:

NEUTRAL GOLDEN (also known as Yellow) pearl overtones are the most prevalentout of any harvest. They are a secondary, transparent tinge of gold over the primary body color of the pearl (Gold), and so appear that the pearls have no overtone at all.

  • Who Will Love It: Just about everybody who loves Golden South Sea pearls will enjoy a Gold overtone.
  • Why They'll Love It: The Neutral Gold overtones are the easiest to match to nearly any complexion, and allow the pearl’s natural color to really shine!
  • Recommended Pairings:Yellow gold clasps, mountings and bales will enhance these pearls’ natural Golden tones, helping them appear brighter and richer.

ROSE overtones on Golden South Sea pearls are a faint blush of pink color over the main Golden body color of the pearls.

  • Who Will Love It:Pale and fair-skinned women will be able to wear this overtone easily, as it adds a touch of warmth to the pearls and the complexion.
  • Why They'll Love It:The Rose overtone is a ‘warm’ Golden South Sea color, which boosts the pearls’ sparkle and makes it easier to pair with a variety of complexions and outfits.
  • Recommended Pairings: Yellow gold is the easiest and most complimentary metal to use.

GREEN / BRONZEovertones on Golden South Sea pearls are the trickiest of all to wear. They appear as a distinct greenish tinge over the golden body color of the pearl.

  • Who Will Love It: Women with very dark skin, or those with yellow/green undertones to their complexions will be able to pull off this look the best.
  • Why They’ll Love It: The cool undertones in their complexions will not clash with a Green/Bronze overtone, making it a complimentary color choice. That and the Green/Bronze overtone is a very unique and visually appealing overtone that is sure to capture attention!
  • Recommended Pairings: Yellow gold is usually the best choice for this overtone combo, as it enhances the contrasting colors making for a visually striking piece of jewelry!

*CHAMPAGNEcolored Golden South Sea pearls are not really an overtone, they are more of a rare and distinct body color. The Champagne hue is a pale pinkish-peach coloring very reminiscent of a fine champagne.

  • Who Will Love It: Blondes and light brunettes will do well with this pearl color, as well as ladies with pink or red undertones to their complexions.
  • Why They'll Love It: The pale, pastel hues will be flattering to complexions that don’t handle heavy colors well.
  • Recommended Pairings:This overtone/color could go either way, but usually a nice yellow gold will help warm the pearls up and enhance their sparkle.

Pearl Overtones on Different Skin Colors

The pictures below show the three most popular white pearl overtones of Rose, Silver and Cream on various skin tones.

  • Fair Skin Model w/ White Pearl Overtones
  • Olive / Tan Skin Model w/ White Pearl Overtones
  • Dark Skin Model w/ White Pearl Overtones
Akoya pearl overtones on fair skin
Akoya pearl overtones on tan skin
White Pearl Overtones on African American Skin

About the Author