Cart (0)

Pearls 101

pearl necklace

Pearls are naturally iridescent gemstones, composed primarily of calcium carbonate. Grown inside oysters and other shelled mollusks, the same material can be found on the inner lining of the shells.

As well as the birthstone for the month of June, pearls are popularly known as a gift for 30th wedding anniversaries, Mother’s Day gifts, and graduation presents. Their natural elegance and shine are prized throughout the world, symbolizing classic sophistication.

Most freshwater pearls are grown in rivers and lakes in Asia, while saltwater varieties - such as Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea - are grown in ocean water. Saltwater pearls are typically more valuable because they possess the most distinctive luster and are often rounder. Round pearls are mostly bead-nucleated. This means that a small round bead is inserted into the oyster, in order to stimulate nacre production. Coating the bead in concentric layers, a classic round pearl is formed over time.

All Ritani pearls are cultured. This means that while they are genuine pearls made from natural materials, the process is overseen and facilitated by humans. Natural and cultured pearls are both created by material being inserted into an oyster. While in the wild this can happen by accident, cultured pearls occur when people intervene and allow nacre, or mother-of-pearl, to form within an oyster.

Pearls are sold by their size, measured in millimeters. Typically, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it is. Other factors including luster, shape, and any blemishes, will also affect the overall rarity and value of a pearl.

Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are grown in waters from lakes or rivers – most often in China. Particular species of freshwater mussels live in these bodies of water all over the world, in both hot and cold climates. Freshwater pearls are mantle nucleated, meaning that a small piece of mantle from one mollusk is inserted into another living mollusk. Nacre then forms around the mantle, which over time produces a pearl. Because of this, freshwater pearls are not always round. Many of them will be closer to oval-shaped because they are formed around the mantle.

freshwater pearl earrings

Freshwater pearls range from 3-12mm, and are produced in a wide variety of colors. Many are the conventional white that is most typically considered a pearly hue. However, freshwater pearls are formed with notes of pink, orange, and even blue. The iridescence of these gemstones allows for various color tones to be visible in different lighting conditions. Some may be more obvious in natural sunlight than under artificial lights, for example.

Akoya Pearls 

Widely considered the most popular and classic variety of pearl, Akoya pearls are produced by Japanese Akoya oysters in saltwater. They typically grow between 3-10mm, with the larger, more lustrous pearls having the most value. The first variety of pearl to be cultured, the Mikimoto pearl company first farmed Akoya pearls in the early 1900s.

akoya freshwater pearl

Prized for their sharp luster and pink overtones, these saltwater pearls are used in a variety of classic and fashionable jewelry styles. Stud earrings, string necklaces, pendants and cocktail rings are often created with Akoya pearls, highlighting their elegant shine.

When shopping for Akoya pearls, look for a high luster and a clean, blemish-free surface. A thick nacre – the result of a pearl grown slowly, over time – means that it is durable, strong, and will last through years of being lovingly worn.

Tahitian Pearls 

Tahitian pearls – also called black pearls – are formed from the black lip oyster, in saltwater. As with other saltwater varieties, Tahitian pearls are grown by the insertion of a bead into the oyster. Nacre is then formed around the bead in concentric layers, slowly creating a black pearl within the mollusk.

Cultured Tahitian pearls are formed in a wide variety of shapes and colors. Teardrop, round, oval and baroque are the most common shapes of these pearls used in contemporary jewelry. While the variety is called the black pearl, they grow with a variety of secondary tones, ranging from light to very dark. 

tahitian pearl

Silver, green, blue, pink, yellow and copper are all colors that can be detected within these iridescent gemstones. The intensity of these colors has a strong effect on their value, with deeper, more evenly colored pearls considered the most rare and stunning.

Cultured Tahitian pearls are farmed in French Polynesia’s blue lagoons, comprising a large proportion of the country’s economic exports.

South Sea Pearls

South Sea pearls are cultured in saltwater oysters, primarily in Western Australia and Indonesia. They are widely known for being the largest of commercially farmed pearls, with an average size of 13mm. The species of oyster that produces South Sea pearls can grow up to 12 inches in diameter - allowing for a larger bead to be inserted at the start of the pearl-forming process.


south sea pearl

The nacre of South Sea pearls is notably thick, when compared to that of other pearl varieties. Akoya pearls typically have a nacre of 0.35-0.7mm, while South Sea pearls have a nacre measuring between 2-6mm. The result is a distinctive, satin luster and a large, durable structure.

The color range found within South Sea pearls is subtler than with other varieties. White, silver, cream and gold are the most common tones, although some pink and yellow secondary colors may be detected.

Caring For Your Pearls

To keep your pearls as lustrous and striking as the first day you wear them, prevent contact with perfumes, hair spray and other chemicals. When not wearing them, store pearls in a separate bag or compartment from other jewelry so as to prevent scratches. Clean them gently with a soft lint-free cloth, to restore their natural luster.

If you have a pearl necklace, you should have it restrung every 2-3 years depending on how often you wear it. You can tell your necklace needs to be restrung if:

  • It is longer than when you first bought it 
  • The knots in between the pearls are fuzzy or dirty
  • There are uneven gaps in between the pearls

Shop For Pearls

Ritani's pearl jewelry collection is a curated selection of timeless and modern pearl styles that celebrate the mineral's natural iridescence. A variety of pearl types, colors and sizes are offered, so that it is easy to find the perfect piece of jewelry for you.

If you would like assistance selecting a piece of pearl jewelry, contact our customer service team at 1.888.9RITANI (1.888.974.8264) or chat now.

UP NEXT: Are Pearls Good For Engagement Rings?

Design Your Dream Engagement Ring
Browse thousands of diamonds and over 100 settings.

FacebookInstagrampinteresttik tok