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Types of Pearls

Freshwater Pearls – Although historically originating in Japan, China is now a major producer of freshwater pearls. In this case it is the humble clam, not its cousin the oyster, that is equally capable of producing high-quality pearls. Traditionally, most freshwater pearls grow in irregular shapes but they now are producing round pearls up to 12mm that can compete with Akoya for size and appeal.

South Sea Pearls – Highly coveted, South Sea pearls come from Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Cultured in varieties of pinctada maxima, this large, warm-water loving, gold and silver-lipped oyster produces pearls of fabulous colors. Most South Sea Pearls are 14-17 mm but can have larger examples that are 16-20mm!

Akoya – Akoya pearls are considered the classic and best known variety of all cultured pearls. The cold water Akoya-producing mollusk produces pearls between 2 and 10mm in size and each shell can produce 4-5 pearls at a time. The color can be white, cream, gold, pink, green, silver or golden.

Mabe – Often referred to as cultured half pearls or blister pearls, mabe pearls form on the inside of the oyster shell rather than in the soft tissue of the mollusk.

Tahitian – Often called “Black Pearls”, Tahitian pearls are found in French Polynesia, Northern Australia, and the Marshall, Cook and Solomon Islands by the Black-Lipped oyster (which can grow to be 30 years old, 100 lbs. and over 12inches in diameter!). The usual size for the Tahitian pearl ranges from 8 to 13mm though larger sizes do occur and are highly prized. The color can be black with tones of peacock blue, green, purple.

Pearl Strand Lengths

Collar – A collar necklace consists of a strand (or strands) of pearls that lay close to the neck.

Choker – A choker is 14 inches to 16 inches long and sits on the base of the neck.

Princess Necklace – A princess necklace is 18 inches to 20 inches long. It is between choker and matinee length.

Matinee Necklace – A matinee necklace is 22 inches to 24 inches long and sits at the top of cleavage.

Opera Necklace – An opera necklace is 30 inches to 35 inches long and sits at the breastbone.

Rope Necklace or Sautoir – A necklace that is longer than opera length. A sautoir often has a pendant or tassel.

Types of Strands

Bib Necklace – A bib necklace is multiple strands of stepped pearls.

Graduated Necklace – A graduated necklace consists of a single strand of pearls that has a large pearl in the middle, with the pearls gradually becoming smaller toward the clasp.

Uniform Necklace – A uniform necklace consists of pearls that appear to be all the same size, although normally there is a slight difference towards the ends so they appear to be in proportion.

Pearl Grading

The most important thing to remember when selecting a pearl is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder as most elements used to assess a pearl will depend on individual taste. Therefore, the most important test is subjective.


Luster describes the beauty you see as light travels through the nacre of the pearl. Luster is not to be confused with surface shine. Luster is the brilliance that comes from deep within the nacre layers.


Pearls may have surface characteristics which may or may not detract from the pearls beauty depending on the quality, depth, or visibility of the blemishes. These imperfections can be caused by particles finding their way into the mollusk and coming in contact with the pearl. Pearls are graded into 4 complexion categories: Statement, Fine, Fashion, and Foundation.


Generally, the size of the pearl affects the price. Large pearls are more difficult to cultivate because of the large size of the implanted nucleus may be rejected by the mollusk. Pearls are measured in diameter increments of millimeters (mm). The longer the pearl is in the mollusk, the thicker the nacre, the richer the glow and the more valuable the pearl.


pearl shapes

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this is certainly the case when it comes to pearl shapes. Some shapes are: round/near round, oval, button, baroque, circle, and drop. The shape of a pearl does not affect its quality.



There is a wide spectrum of colors that can be found in pearls. Basic colors include cream, gray, green, blue and pink. The most popular colors are white and pink rose because these shades flatter the widest range of skin tones. Color is based on preference, but it is always important to find a color that is rich and evenly distributed on the pearl. Pearls can also be bleached for whiteness or dyed for a wider range of colors.

Care of Pearls

Like any precious heirloom, pearl jewelry will require some care to preserve its freshness and beauty.

Occasionally clean the pearls gently with a cloth dampened in warm water or water with a very mild, diluted soap. Then rinse the cloth in fresh water and wipe the pearls clean. Dry them with a soft cloth. Never soak or hang your strand as this can weaken the silk thread used. And do not store your pearls in direct sunlight or on a direct source of heat (such as a fireplace mantle, T.V. or stove) or store them in very dry places, such as safety deposit boxes, for long periods of time as this can dehydrate the pearls. Never store your pearls in any type of plastic bag.  Plastic can emit a chemical that will cause the pearl’s surface to deteriorate.

The following hints will help you keep your pearls looking their lustrous best.

•Wait until after applying makeup, perfume, and hairspray to put on jewelry. Some chemicals, such as those in lotions and items mentioned above, may harm pearl jewelry.

•Don’t allow pearls to rub against harder gems or other jewelry.

•Before putting pieces away, wipe the pearl jewelry softly with a clean cloth.

•For storage, keep the pearl jewelry wrapped alone in a soft cloth and protected from abrasive objects.

Strands will need restringing from time to time depending on how often they are worn. A knot in between each pearl in a strand is recommended to keep the pearls from rubbing against one another and to keep loss of pearls to a minimum should the strand break.