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The Wide World of Pearls, Our 112th Issue: What Are The Differences Between Freshwater and Saltwater Pearls?

 

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You Asked ...

Every day we receive questions from customers all over the world about pearls. We decided to post our answers here for every one to read!

 

What Are The Differences Between Freshwater and Saltwater Pearls?

 Saltwater vs. Freshwater Pearls

  

We Answer: 

The main difference between Freshwater and Saltwater pearls is that Freshwater pearls come from rivers, lakes and ponds, while Saltwater pearls come from the sea.
 
Saltwater pearls are exceptionally gorgeous and typically more expensive than Freshwater pearls. Freshwater pearls, by comparison, may lack some of the sharp luster of Saltwater pearls, but are usually far more affordable.


Saltwater vs Freshwater Pearl Luster
 
But we’re only scratching the surface here. Freshwater and Saltwater pearls have many differences but also quite a few similarities, and the most important thing to remember is that both are real pearls and beautiful in their own distinctive way.
There are four major saltwater pearl types, and one major variety of Freshwater pearls that most everyone is familiar with.
 
For saltwater pearls there are:

Japanese Akoya Pearls
Black Tahitian Pearls
White South Sea Pearls
Golden South Sea Pearls
 
For Freshwater pearls there are: 
 
Chinese Freshwater Pearls
 
Let's explore a little bit about each of these pearl types, and what makes them unique.


Saltwater vs. Freshwater Pearls: Akoya Pearls


Japanese Akoya Pearls

The smallest, but perhaps the most lustrous of all cultured pearl types, the Akoya pearl is grown in the saltwater pearl oyster pinctada fucata martensii, which grows to just a few inches across at maturity. 
 
Akoya pearls are grown in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast and islands off of Japan. The colder temperatures there help slow down the oyster's metabolism, resulting in nacre layers being deposited more slowly and compactly. This is what gives Akoya pearls their "ball bearing" luster that's so famous. 
 
Other countries produce Akoya pearls such as Vietnam and China, however the harvest volume is incredibly low compared with Japan. 


Saltwater vs. Freshwater Pearls: Tahitian Pearls


Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian pearls are cultured saltwater pearls farmed in the tropical lagoons and atolls of the French Polynesian islands. Tahitian pearls first started being grown by pearl farmers in the 1960s, so these pearls are relative newcomers to the cultured pearl market.
 
Tahitian pearls are grown in the large saltwater pearl oyster pinctada margaritifera, black-lipped variety. From the time a mother of pearl bead nucleus is inserted to harvest, the typical amount of time the pearls spend inside the oyster acquiring thick layers of nacre is 2-3 years on average. 
 
Famous for their natural black and charcoal gray body colors and palette of colorful overtones like peacock, green, aubergine and more, Tahitian pearls are known as the Black pearl to own in the pearl world. 


Saltwater vs. Freshwater Pearls Golden South Sea Pearls


Golden South Sea Pearls

One of the largest and rarest pearls found around the world is Gold in color. They are Golden South Sea pearls, cultured in the Philippine Islands. Golden South Sea pearls have only been available to pearl lovers since the late 1970s, and are known as the “Rolls Royce” of cultured pearls.
 
Golden-lipped pinctada maxima pearl oysters can be and are found in Australia and throughout the South China seas. But the very finest examples of Golden South Sea pearls are known to come from the chain of islands in the Philippines. In the Philippine Islands, pearl farms are located in sheltered coves and lagoons where the oysters can be protected from the open elements of the ocean.
 
Golden South Sea pearls feature natural body colors in a wide range of golden hues. The golden spectrum starts at very pale, lemon or sunshine yellows and gradually deepens to the darkest 24kt gold color that is so deep it can appear orange-tinted.
 
Pearl graders and jewelers will typically describe the depth of color using metal gold hallmarks to aid in visualizing what these colors look like in real life. So, 10kt golden tone would be a very pale, light gold, 14kt would be a medium golden tone, 18kt is a deep gold tone and 24kt is the deepest, most saturated golden tone.


Saltwater vs. Freshwater Pearls: White South Sea Pearls


White South Sea Pearls 

White South Sea pearls sit at the pinnacle of the cultured pearl world and are some of the most sought-after pearls. Luminous and large, South Sea pearls are synonymous with luxury, sophistication and charm.
 
The best White South Sea pearl harvests are known to be produced by Australian farmers. That said, there are some smaller farms producing White South Sea pearls in the Philippine islands. That said, they’re known for producing pearls with a much warmer, creamier color. Grown in the silver-lipped pinctada maxima saltwater oyster, White South Sea pearls are famous for their bright, silvery-white colors and touchable luster.
 
South Sea pearls are the largest cultured pearl type of all, and traditionally range from 8 - 9mm up through 16 – 17mmregularly. Sizes above 17 mm are rare, but obtainable on special request.
 
Average sizes for South Sea pearl jewelry range from 9 – 10mm through 13-14mm. For South Sea pearl earrings, the largest sizes for stud earrings tops out at 12 - 13mm.Anything larger than 13mm usually needs a dangle earring style to ensure that the weight isn’t too much for the earlobe.


Saltwater vs. Freshwater Pearls: Colorful Freshwater Pearls


Freshwater Pearls 

One of the main differences between Freshwater and Saltwater pearls is value and therefore price. There was a time when it could be confidently asserted that Freshwater pearls would always cost less than Saltwater ones.
 
But the situation is no longer this simple. The fact is that Freshwater pearls have been playing a catch-up game with their Saltwater cousins, in terms of quality, appeal and overall appearance.
 
With the recent impressive scientific improvements in Freshwater pearl farming, the appearance and value difference between certain types of top Freshwater pearls and Saltwater pearls is gradually decreasing.
 
Tissue-nucleated Freshwater pearls are pure nacre, grown in the Hyriopsis cumingii triangle shell Freshwater pearl mussel. As a result, their luster is deep and smooth in appearance. By contrast, bead-nucleated Freshwater Edison pearls have a shiny, slightly metallic luster, which is quite lovely and fascinating.
 
Freshwater pearls offer a range of pastel colors that have a very summery feel to them, their larger siblings, bead-nucleated Edisons, offer buyers a delectable selection of bright, jazzy, attractive colors, which can be both pastel or a deeper and more complex tone.
 
Because of this wide range of colors, Freshwater pearls have amassed a large and loyal color-friendly following.



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