Updated: May 4, 2021
In 1893, a young man by the name of Mikimoto Kokichi cultured the first pearl. Dictionary.com defines “cultured” as the following: “to grow (microorganisms, tissues, etc.) in or on a controlled or defined medium.” Sea (pun intended) in the wild, pearls grown by an irritant (or piece of debris) entering the mollusk (oyster), and then layers of nacre forming around said irritant. But this natural process was too slow for the growing pearl industry. Mikimoto’s new method allowed humans to speed up the process considerably and keep pace with the growing demand. Today, wild/natural pearls incredible rare. Nearly all of pearls on the market today are cultured.
Be Cultured, Not Ignorant
So cultured is just the name of the way the pearls are produced. These pearls are still grown by traditional methods and are pearls in every way. Sometimes there is confusion between cultured and “fake” or imitation pearls. Here is the difference: cultured pearls have the natural nacre (pearl’y coating) formed around the seed (starter) pearl. Imitation or fake pearls are man made “beads” with a pearl-like iridescent coating. There is no nacre coating here.
Pearls for ALL Girls
Pearls sometimes are associated with and older crowd. "Aren't pearls for grandmas?" is a question we often get. Well that is certainly old news. Modern, sophisticated, simple, and elegant can describe our selection of pearl jewelry. Sure we have pearls for grandma, but we have pearls for girls of all ages. Take a look at celebrities of all ages rocking these rocks of the sea.
The Big Four
Pearls can be separated into four categories depending on where they are grown. Let’s dive (pun also intended) into the differences:
Both the Japanese and Chinese have perfected the cultured pearl process. Pearls are grown in the saltwater regions around these countries and they dominate the pearl market. Historically sizes have ranged from 5-8mm but today can be as small as 2mm and as large as 11mm. They are typically round and near round with some baroques as well. Their quality has been improved with advances in production but they are typically slightly off-white with very good luster. Price $ - $$$
Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are the main players in South Sea pearl production. These pearls are also grown in the nutrient rich saltwater surrounding these countries. Sizes are typically larger; starting around 8mm and going up towards 20mm. Their incredibly white color and superb luster are unlike any other variety. One of the more rare and exquisite colors is the Golden color also produced in this region. Price $$$ - $$$$
Obviously, as their name suggests, these are grown off the islands of French Polynesia (aka Tahiti). These pearls tend to be larger ranging in sizes from 8mm on up. Their color is what makes them special as they grow in the black-lipped mollusk. Not only is the Black Tahitian pearl mesmerizing, so too are their cousins if you will: Chocolate and Peacock pearls. $$ - $$$$
These are grown in freshwater lakes and ponds in the US and China. They range in sizes from 1mm but can get as large as 14mm. Recent advances in production have produced more round and better material similar to Akoyas. Whereas before, quality and their baroque shape, as well as low luster were key indicators. Price $-$$
*I had a trainer (back in the day) who would grab a dumbbell and say, "time to do curls for the girls". Figuratively speaking, fell on the flooring laughing..