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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the differences between cultured and natural pearls

A: Pearls are formed thanks to the attempted rejection, and eventual co-opting of an invading foreign object into a mussel or an oyster. The mollusk secretes a silky, smoothing substance, known as nacre, to protect itself from the foreign object. Slowly, these layers of nacre form what we know as a pearl.

A natural pearl is formed when the foreign substance, such as a grain of sand, enters the mollusk naturally without human assistance.

In a cultured pearl, the insertion of the foreign object is DONE BY HUMANS with either a piece of mussel tissue or a bead made from a mollusk shell. These mussels and oysters are cultivated in fresh water or salt water farms, respectively. The vast majority of pearls available today are cultured pearls.

Q: What are the differences between Akoya and Freshwater pearls

A: AKOYA PEARLS grow in a saltwater oyster, and Freshwater pearls grown in a freshwater mussel. Thus, the main difference between the two is obvious; Akoya pearls are cultured in salt water, and Freshwater pearls are cultured in fresh water. But they also differ in not only where they grow, but how they look, how they are cultured, and what type of mollusk they are cultured in. These factors make their values quite different as well.

Akoya pearls are cultured by the insertion of a tiny bead nucleus formed from the shell of a mollusk. Due to the initial bead shape, Akoya pearls are visually much rounder than their freshwater counterparts. They also tend to have a sharper, more distinctive luster. The Akoya oyster is also the smallest pearl-producing oyster. This allows Akoya pearls to only range in size from about 2mm-11mm with anything over 9mm being rare. The oyster is also only able to culture between 2-4 pearls at a time per oyster, thus raising the value of the Akoya cultured pearl.

FRESHWATER PEARLS are cultured by the insertion of a tiny piece of donor mussel tissue into the tissue of a freshwater mussel. Because the pearl forms around donor tissue and not a bead nucleus, the pearl is rarely perfectly round, and is virtually solid nacre. The freshwater mussel is able to culture anywhere from 24 - 40 pearls at one time per mussel. This high yield has not only raised the bar for the quality of freshwater pearls (making the top % rival the Akoya pearl in luster and roundness), but it has advanced culturing to a point that freshwater pearls are easily attainable and affordable.

Q: How are pearls graded

A: Pearls are GRADED, depending on the type of pearl, according to all or some of thesePEARL QUALITIES: luster, shape, surface quality, nacre thickness, PEARL SIZE, and matching.

Freshwater and Akoya pearls are graded from A-AAA, with AAA being the highest quality. Tahitian and South Sea pearls can be graded using either the A-AAA scale, which is what we use at PEARLZZZ; or it can be graded by letters from A-D, with A being the highest quality. Please consult "PEARL GRADING" under our 'Help & Info' topics for more detailed information regarding how our pearls are graded.

Q: What are Tahitian or South Sea pearls

A: TAHITIAN pearls, frequently referred to as 'black pearls,' are cultured almost exclusively around the islands of French Polynesia and Tahiti. They are cultured by the black pearl oyster, Pinctada margaritifera, which can only be nucleated with one pearl at a time. These pearls are generally between 8mm and upwards of 16mm. Because of the pearl size and culturing process, these pearls are much more valuable than Freshwater or Akoya pearls. And though they have a naturally dark body, they are not usually true black. They are most often colors of green, gray, silver, and purple, but are also found in every color in between. Though sometimes referred to as, 'black South Sea pearls,' only pearls that come from the Pinctada maxima oyster can be called South Sea.

SOUTH SEA PEARLS are the largest cultured pearls and also the most valuable. They are grown in the warm, South Sea waters between China and Australia in the oyster, Pinctada maxima. Due to the large nucleus used and the minimum of two years growing time, these pearls are usually between 9mm-20mm. The color of the oyster determines the color of the pearl produced; most commonly producing White and Golden South Sea pearls. Like the Tahitian-producing oyster, the South Sea oyster can also only be nucleated with one bead at a time. And since these Pinctada maxima are a far more rare species, the value of South Sea pearls is even higher than Tahitian pearls.


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