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The History of Pearls

Perhaps the best-loved gems of all time, known as the Queen of Gems, pearls have been coveted for centuries.  They are officially the worlds oldest gem.

Pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC, while in ancient Rome, pearl jewelry was considered the ultimate status symbol. So precious were this gems that in the 1st century BC, Julius Caesar passed a law limiting the wearing of pearls only to the ruling classes.

The abundance of natural oyster beds in the Persian Gulf meant that pearls also carried great importance in Arab cultures, where legend stated that pearls were formed from dewdrops that were swallowed by oysters when they fell into the sea.

In ancient China, pearl jewelry was said to symbolize the purity of the wearer while, in the Dark Ages, knights often wore pearls on the battlefield, believing that the precious gemstones would keep them safe. According to legend, Cleopatra crushed a pearl into a glass of wine to prove to Marc Antony that she could give the most expensive dinner in history.

Pearl Types

There are four major types of pearls:

Akoya Cultured Pearls

Akoya cultured pearls are the most familiar type of saltwater cultured pearl to most people in the U.S and other western markets. Akoya pearls are produce Bryan oyster called Pinctada Fucata, Japan and China both produce akoya cultured pearls. Their size range from 2mm to 10mm, often round in shape and with very high luster.

South Sea Cultured Pearls

Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are leading sources of these saltwater cultured pearls. South Sea cultured pearls can be white to silver or golden, depending on the type of oyster. The oyster is called Pinctada Maxima. Their large size, between 10mm to 20mm and thick nacre, due to a long growth period, plus their limited critical growing conditions are all factors contributing to their value.

Tahitian Cultured Pearls

Cultivated exclusively in Tahiti and several other islands of French Polynesia. The oyster that produce this pearls is called Pinctada Margaritifera. These saltwater cultured pearls, many times called black pearls, have colors like peacock green, silver, black or brown, they also can have blue, green, purple or pink overtones. Their size range from 8mm to 18mm.

Freshwater Cultured Pearls

Freshwater cultured pearls are the most commonly produced pearls and one of the most popular pearl types. This is due to their remarkable range of sizes, shapes and colors, plus their commercial availability at lower price points. Their size range from 5mm to 10mm. Cultured in freshwater lakes and ponds, often with many pearls grown in one oyster. China is the leading source for freshwater cultured pearls.

Natural Pearls vs. Cultured Pearls

Natural Pearls

Natural pearls form in the bodies, or mantle tissue, of certain mollusks, usually around a microscopic irritant that gets inside and irritates the oyster secreting the nacre that will cover the irritant to be transform in a pearl, and always without human help of any kind.

Cultured Pearls

The growth of cultured pearls requires human intervention and care. Most of the mollusks used in the culturing process are raised specifically for that purpose, although some wild mollusks are still collected and used.


Pearls are generally of spherical shapes.

Perfectly Round

Perfectly round pearls are the rarest and most valuable shape.


Semi-rounds are virtually round, used in necklaces or in pieces where the shape of the pearl can be disguised to look like it is a perfectly round pearl.


Button pearls are like a slightly flattened round pearl often used in single pendants or earrings where the back half of the pearl is covered, making it look like a larger, rounder pearl.

Drop Shaped

Drop shaped pearls are sometimes look like as teardrop pearls and are most often seen in earrings, pendants, or as a center pearl in a necklace.


Baroque pearls have a different appeal; they are often highly irregular with unique and interesting shapes. They are also commonly seen in necklaces.

Circled Baroque

Circled Baroque pearls are characterized by concentric ridges, or rings, around the body of the pearl.