When you’re buying pearls, there are so many different types of pearls names! How are you supposed to choose and what should you consider when shopping for pearls? Are there any ethical considerations to think about when buying pearls?  Let’s talk about the different types of pearls, how they’re cultivated, and what that means you should look for when buying pearls.

Type of Pearls: Natural vs Cultured

We see “natural” or “cultured” labels on pearls a lot.  What does this really mean?

Natural pearls are rare formations that happen out in the wild when oysters or mollusks are attacked by an irritant.  In response, they secret layers of a substance called nacre to fight the irritant. That’s the basis of the pearl formation.  This process is very slow and can go on for years.

Contrary to naturally formed pearls, cultured pearls have a helping hand, where a pearl farmer embeds a pearl nucleus into the oyster.  The oyster then takes over in naturally forming the pearl. Just as they do with natural pearls, the oyster will layer the nucleus with nacre, forming a beautiful pearl.

So, which type is better? There’s really not much of a difference other than natural pearls being extremely rare and very expensive.  Otherwise, they’re pretty much the same in terms of composition. Nearly all of the pearls found for sale are cultured. So, when you’re shopping, no need to go out and search for those rare natural pearls, cultured pearls will do just fine!

Freshwater pearl jewelry

Freshwater vs Saltwater Pearls

Another pearl distinction you might is is where they are formed — either in fresh or salt water.  This distinction applies to both natural and cultured pearl types.  Saltwater pearls are formed in oceans and freshwater pearls are formed in mollusks in lakes and rivers. Freshwater pearls form more quickly than saltwater pearls.  And they’re typically a bit smaller but more durable than saltwater pearls.

Typically saltwater pearls are more expensive, but freshwater pearls are the ones that come in all of those fun and irregular shapes! For the modern pearl wearing this is where you want to focus — the baroque, semi-baroque and oval shapes are a unique take on the classic perfectly round saltwater pearls.  And freshwater pearls are less likely to chip and get damaged, so win-win!

So, what’s the verdict? Either will work but we love freshwater pearls because they look cooler, are less expensive, and hold up longer!

Keshi baroque pearl earrings

Other Pearl Varieties: Akoya, Keshi, Baroque

You probably are seeing some other terms related to pearls, and we’ll cover what those different pearl terms are and what they mean.

Akoya pearls are a type of saltwater pearl that are probably what you think of when you envision that perfect strand of round white pearls.  They are typically uniformly shaped into a round circle and are typically more expensive than freshwater pearls.

Baroque pearls refer to the shape of the pearl, and are a type of freshwater pearl. We love baroque pearls because they’re so interesting and cool, and no two are shaped alike.  There are 2 main types of pearl shapes, Traditional and Baroque.  So, if it’s not perfectly shaped then it’s baroque.

And finally, keshi pearls are a type of baroque pearl which is one of the rarest types of baroque pearls.  These have such an unusual, wonderful shape because the oyster rejects part of the seed, but then keep producing the nacre.  The result is an elongated shape sometimes almost like it has a tail.

What do I need to know before buying pearls?

So, now you should have a basic understanding of the different types of pearls, their names and how they relate to each other.  When buying pearls, it’s really all just about availability and your price range, and what you’re aiming for — collecting an heirloom or buying real pearls that fit your personal style. Overall, the more widely available something is (i.e. cultured freshwater) the more affordable options you’ll find, but that shouldn’t sway you from buying these types.  We actually prefer these types (like freshwater keshi baroque pearls) because they are more modern looking, completely unique, and are more durable than other types like saltwater pearls.

sources: Jewelry Shopping Guide, Truly Experiences

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