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Akoya – Lustrously Delicate
- Cultured Pearls farmed in Japanese and Chinese ocean water.
- Created by a type of oyster called Pinctada fucata martensii: The “Akoya Pearl” Oyster
- Because this type of oyster is not especially large, typically found in sizes of 2-8mm with 8-10mm being considered very large for Akoya pearls.
- Known for their white to cream coloration. Some cultures, especially Japan, value a very slight pink tinge to the pearl.
- Valued for their mirror-like luster and depth (orient).
Tahitian – Black and Bold
- Cultured pearls farmed in Polynesian ocean water
- Created by a type of oyster called Pinctada margaritifera: the “black-lip oyster”.
- These oysters are larger and can produce pearls as large as 16mm, though 8-10mm is more common
- Colloquially called “black pearls” they range from light gray to very dark gray.
- They exhibit greens, blues and purples, with the most valued examples showing an “oil slick” type spectrum of colors. Tahitian pearls showing a variety of all these hues with that ‘oil slick’ effect are often called “peacock” color and are among the most prized.
South Seas – The Big Kahuna
- Cultured Pearls farmed largely in Australian ocean waters, but some in other south seas locations such as the Philippines and Fiji.
- Created by a type of oyster called Pinctada maxima: the “gold-lip oyster”.
- These oysters produce the largest pearls with examples over 20mm being known. More typical is 10-12mm
- They are often white, but also often come in a golden-yellow color most often called “golden pearls”. Other colors such as pink are found, but are rarer. Australian Farms tend to produce White Pearls, While Golden Pearls most often come from more easterly locations such as the Philippines.
Freshwater Pearls – Affordable Elegance
- Cultured mostly in Chinese freshwater rivers and lakes. Some are cultured in Japan and other locations as well.
- Generally created by freshwater mussels.
- Freshwater pearls were cultured in Japan starting in the early 1900’s, but production was limited, peaking at 6 tons in 1971, before pollution wiped out most Japanese production. Large-scale freshwater pearl farming started in the 1970’s and 80’s with current production levels over 1,500 tons annually.
- Freshwater pearl culturing is advancing rapidly. Pearls produced early on were mostly rice-grain shaped. Later a “potato” oval shape was produced, and more recently near-round and round pearls are being produced.
Freshwater pearls come in a broad variety of colors. Many are bleached to produce white coloration, or dyed to mimic the gray or golden hues of other pearls. As pearls are porous, the dyes are absorbed deep into the pearl and are relatively permanent. Dying of pearls has become widely accepted – when properly disclosed.
- Freshwater pearls have been increasing in size as cultivation techniques improve. Today, they rival Tahitian and South-Sea pearls in size and examples of 12mm and larger are beginning to appear.
- Freshwater pearls, while beautiful, typically do not achieve quite the same luster or roundness as saltwater pearls, and prices are thus more affordable. But as quality increases, prices have been rising too.
“Types Of Pearls.” CPAA. The Cultured Pearl Association of America, Inc, 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://cpaa.myshopify.com/pages/types-of-pearls>.