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Freshwater Pearls vs. Cultured Pearls

Is this pearl necklace comprised of freshwater or cultured pearls? This is a common question many pearl buyers will ask; unfortunately there is no conclusive answer. The truth is, all pearls sold today are cultured pearls, freshwater pearls included. Many jewelers and jewelry stores confusingly use the trade term "cultured pearls" when describing Akoya pearls, even though there are four common types of cultured pearls.

It is very important you understand exactly what type of pearls you are purchasing as the values could vary by 1000's of dollars depending on the origin of the pearl used. Freshwater pearls are typically the least expensive and are cultured using a small piece of mantle tissue. This method of culturing with just a small piece of tissue results in a pearl of solid nacre(pearly substance) but will rarely be round in shape. The saltwater method of growing using a round shell bead results in more round pearls per harvest but pearls that are not solid nacre. Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea pearls are all saltwater pearls grown by implanting a round shell bead and allowing the mollusk to secrete layers of nacre around the bead.

It is also important to know that there are natural pearls available for sale but will always be labeled as such and should never be purchased unless accompanied by a certificate of authenticity declaring their exact pearl type. Typically natural pearls are only found at auction, estate sales or with natural pearl dealers. With the exception of a small amount of pearl diving in Bahrain most natural pearls will be antiques with price tags reaching six figures on occasion.

As you can see, it's important to ask your jeweler what type of cultured pearl you are looking at. If he can't tell you, then you may want to consider purchasing your pearls elsewhere.

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