A Complete Guide to Pearls and Its Types

A Complete Guide to Pearls and Its Types

Long known as the "Queen of Gems," pearls possess an elaborate history and an allure far beyond what today's wearer may appreciate. Throughout much of recorded history, a natural pearl necklace comprised of matched spheres was the most expensive pearl jewellery amongst royalties.

Before the production of cultured pearls in the early 1900s, natural pearls were so rare and expensive that they were exclusive to the nobles and the extremely rich. The Roman historian Suetonius wrote that during the pinnacle of the Roman Empire, a general named Vitellius financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother's pearl earrings.

Pearl jewellery designs have been a symbol of opulence and luxury for centuries. No matter the origin, admiration for pearls spread throughout the entire world over the ensuing millennia. India's sacred books and epic tales are full of references to pearls, and it is said that pearls were among the many treasures owned by ancient Indian kings and queens.

One legend has Lord Krishna discovering pearls in the sea and bestowing them upon his daughter Pandaïa on her wedding day. This tale illustrates the timelessness of pearls and their significance in various cultures throughout history. Today, pearl jewellery designs continue to be popular, and they are often used to add a touch of elegance and sophistication to any outfit.


Pearls can be naturally found in nature. Traditionally, most natural pearls originated from the Persian Gulf. However, most of these have been harvested and subsequently naturally occurring pearls have become rarer and rarer. This makes them very costly in this day and age. Their counterpart, the cultured pearls are grown in pearl farms.

Generally speaking, there are two broad classes of pearls:

  • Graduated, where the size of the pearl changes from the centre to end.
  • Uniform, where all the pearls are around the same size.

Pearls are in freshwater as well as saltwater. Additionally, different molluscs can produce distinctive-looking pearls. Apart from these distinctions, the major types of pearls are:

  • Akoya Pearl

Akoya Pearls

This is a type of cultured saltwater pearl grown in Chinese and Japanese waters. Their size varies from 2mm to 10mm. They are round, and usually white or cream. Mikimoto is the most widely distributed brand of these types of pearls. Mikimoto branded pearls command a premium price and are known for their great quality.

  • South Sea Pearl

South sea pearls

These pearls are produced mainly in the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia. It is the largest of all pearls and ranges in size from 9mm to 20mm. It can be cream, white, or golden. They are primarily from the oyster Pinctada maxima.

  • Tahitian Pearl

Despite the name, they aren’t solely produced in Tahiti. They are grown all-around several of the French Polynesian islands. Their size generally ranges between 8mm and 16mm. The natural shade of these pearls ranges from blue, purple, green, and grey. However, they are collectively known as black pearls. The black lip oyster, Pinctada margaritifera, produces these types of pearls.

  • Imitation Pearls

Imitation pearls are usually just glass beads that have been coated to resemble a pearl. They tend to have a high lustre, but not in the same depth that naturally occurs from high-quality cultured pearls. It is relatively easy to distinguish an imitation pearl from a natural pearl or a cultured pearl. However, it can be challenging to differentiate between natural pearls and cultured pearls.

  • Mother of Pearl

mother of pearl

For jewellery, mother of pearl usually refers to the thin nacre coating that is adhered the mollusc’s shell instead of inside it. Mother of pearl has an unmistakable multi-coloured effect and a delicate glow comparable to other splendid moon-like gemstones. Non-nacre mollusc shells have a smooth and uniform look resembling porcelain. 

Pearls make such magnificent accessories that they can practically be paired with any kind of outfit – from a t-shirt and jeans to an elegant black dress and everything in between. Whether you are trying to achieve that bling look or add a touch of subtle sophistication, pearls can take your style to the next level effortlessly. Little wonder why they have remained fashion statements for hundreds of years.