Hi, Kevin here…
Ok This one drives me crazy...
People call me all the time and say:
"I don't want cultured pearls, I want REAL pearls".
So, here's the deal...
Apart from a very small collectors market in natural (wild pearls), all pearls bought and sold on the retail market are cultured pearls.
(a strand of natural pearls could sell for $1.0 million+)
Unless you're the Prince of Monaco, cultured pearls are what you're looking for.
Cultured pearls are real pearls grown inside real oysters at pearl farms in Japan, Australia, Indonesia, China and many more locations.
Natural/Wild Pearls are typically found by shellfish harvesters purely by accident. You might have to open 10,000 oysters to find a single decent quality natural pearl.
It's this rarity that gives them their high price tag, not necessarily their beauty.
Now where it get's confusing is some jewelers will refer to cultured freshwater pearls as just "cultured pearls"
and they will refer to cultured Akoya pearls as "saltwater pearls" or "real pearls".
It's confusing and they know it. In fact, they do it on purpose.
They're trying to sell you a more expensive pearl (the Akoya).
And that's not to say that Akoya pearlsS are not a great choice. They're perfectly round and have incredible luster -- they're THE classic white pearl.
But I believe in giving you honest information, so you can make your own informed decision.
Here is a quick run down on the 4 main types of cultured pearls you'll encounter while pearl shopping.
When most people think about white pearls they are thinking about Akoya pearls- the are the classic white pearls. They are grown in saltwater off the coast of Japan.
Mikimoto and Tiffany's sells primarily cultured Akoya pearls.
If you want classic white, round pearls with high luster, BUY AKOYA PEARLS.
If someone says they are offering "cultured pearls" but doesn't tell you a type of pearl,9/10 times they are cultured freshwater pearls.
These pearls come in white, peach, lavender, and recently some very EXCITING EXOTIC COLORS.
Freshwater pearls used to be very low quality, but today freshwater pearl farmers are producing affordable pearls that rival the very best saltwater pearls.
My GEM GRADE FRESHWATER PEARLS are exceptional quality at about 1/3 the price of Akoya pearls.
These are the only naturally "black" pearls. It's important to understand that the term "black" is used to describe dark colored pearls, including silver, gray, green, blue & purples -- not necessarily a true black.
They are grown in saltwater "atolls"off French Polynesia and Fiji. They aren't actually black but instead they are dark shades of gray, green, blue and purple.
They are large exotic pearls that just 20 years ago would have sold for $100,000/strand. Today with increased production the same strand can be purchased from me for $3000.
Related Blog Post:
3 THINGS YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE BUYING TAHITIAN PEARLS
These are the "QUEEN of Gems" and the rarest of all cultured pearls. They are grown in saltwater off Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
These are BIG white or golden pearls, with deep silky luster. Those huge pearls that Barbara bush, Nancy Pelosi or Oprah are famous for wearing - they're South Sea pearls.
The ultimate "power pearls". A strand of South Sea pearls tells the world you've made it.
If you want the very best pearls money can buy, SOUTH SEA PEARLS ARE IT.
So... To reiterate, you DO want cultured pearls.
Your job is to figure out which kind of cultured pearls you want.