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What Are the Various Types of Pearls?

Pearls have been prized since antiquity, and fashion designers regard them as an essential part of any well-dressed woman’s wardrobe. However, the classic strand of perfectly matched white pearls that comes to mind when we think of this gem is only one example of the many colors and shapes that pearls can be found in. To get a true sense of the variety available, it helps to be familiar with the terminology used to describe pearls:


NATURAL PEARLS: All pearls are formed when an irritant enters a mollusk (an oyster, mussel, or clam). The mollusk coats the irritant with nacre, an iridescent material that also lines the inside of its shell, to protect its soft body. Layers of this material accumulate over time, forming a pearl. The irritant is accidentally introduced into a natural pearl. Auctioneer Adam Levinsohn from Bond Street Auctions says:’’ Natural pearls are extremely rare and, as a result, extremely expensive.’’


CULTURED PEARLS: Cultured pearls: Cultured pearls are created using the same process as natural pearls, with the exception that the irritant that forms the pearl’s core is deliberately inserted by a pearl farmer. This process allows for greater control over the size, color, and quality of the pearls generated while also lowering the price. Auctioneer Adam Levinsohn from Bond Street Auctions warns you of one important point:’’ Cultured pearls are not the same as imitation pearls and they are as genuine as natural pearls.’’


SALT-WATER PEARLS: Salt-water pearls: Pearls can be obtained from a variety of mollusk species. A salt-water pearl is one that was created by an ocean-dwelling mollusk species. According to Auctioneer Adam Levinsohn from Bond Street Auctions the most common salt -water types are

Akoya (Japan and China): These produce pure white pearls ranging in size from 2 to 9 millimeters.

Tahitian (from the French Polynesian islands): Tahitian pearls range in color from light grey to pure black and have a diameter of 9 to 13 millimeters. Many Tahitian pearls are available in baroque and perfectly round shapes.

South Sea (along the coasts of Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines): These are the largest pearls on the market, measuring up to 15 millimeters in diameter and available in white or gold. Because of their thick layers of nacre, they have a distinct satiny appearance.


FRESHWATER  PEARLS: Freshwater pearls form in oysters found in bodies of freshwater such as lakes or rivers. They can resemble saltwater pearls in appearance and come in a variety of colors. While China produces the majority of freshwater pearls, they can also come from Japan or the United States.


BAROQUE PEARLS: Baroque pearls: According to auctioneer Adam Levinsohn from Bond Street Auctions; the ‘baroque’ term refers to the form of a pearl rather than its origin. Baroque pearls are irregularly shaped rather than perfectly round, and their individual variation adds a dramatic flair to contemporary jewelry. Designers have been known to create one-of-a-kind pieces to highlight particularly interesting baroque pearls.


At Bond Street Auctions, we have a reputation for representing the greatest in luxury fine collectibles. These treasures remain the icons of history, and they are not limited to just any one few people. We invite you to take in the splendor with us at our upcoming events.


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