What is the difference between Natural and Cultured Pearls
Although natural and cultured pearls both come from oysters, the pearls are formed from different types of implantation.
Natural pearls are created in oysters when an irritant becomes trapped in the mollusk. Despite popular belief, a grain of sand is normally not enough of an irritant to form a pearl. Instead, more common irritants are pieces of shell, parasites, or fish scales. When the irritant gathers in the mollusk, the animal then senses the foreign object and, over a period of time, coats it with layers of aragonite and conchiolin – the two materials that the animal uses to create its shell.
Qualities of Natural Pearls
Natural pearls usually possess an irregular shape which is refer to as Baroque pearls. Speherical natural pearls are rare to encounter and therefore are valued higher as a result. On the opposite end, cultured pearl shapes can be easily manipulated and are created through what the maker inserts into the mollusk as the pearl’s core.
The Demand for Natural Pearls
In today’s market, both natural and cultured pearls are in high demand. Yet unless a pearl is at least 80 years old, there is a good chance that it is cultured rather than natural. This is because most of the mollusks that were capable of producing pearls naturally are nearly extinct from the pearl hunting that occured in the 1800s. In fact, Bahrain is one of the last remaining countries where divers still search for natural pearls.
There are two types of cultured pearls: freshwater pearls from mussels and saltwater pearls from oysters. Similar to natural pearls, cultured versions are created in an almost identical process. The only difference is a person carefully implants the irritant in the oyster instead of leaving it to chance. From there, we then step aside and let nature take its course.
Freshwater pearls come in a wide range of colors such as beautiful shades of pink, gold, and green in addition to the more traditional white and cream. Furthermore, they are available in several different shapes such as oval, rounded, and rice-shaped. These types of pearls are composed completely of nacre (the inner shell layer of mollusks) while saltwater pearls only have a few layers of nacre on the outside.
Saltwater pearls consist of any pearls cultured in mollusks that inhabit saline waters. The three most common types of saltwater pearls are Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea pearls. Saltwater pearls generally have a round or semiround shape and are typically white or cream colored unless dyed otherwise. Due to saltwater pearls being rarer, more lustrous, and more uniform in shape than freshwater pearls, they are normally more expensive.
The Demand for Cultured Pearls
Overall, both pearl types have the same iridescent luster, but freshwater pearls are less pricey due to how much easier it is to obtain them. In fact, a single mussel can create up to twenty pearls at once, whereas an oyster can only create one pearl at a time. Therefore, the freshwater versions are usually the most economical option for pearl jewelry.
Which Should You Choose?
Overall, both natural and cultured pearls can make up incredible pieces of jewelry. Either version of the iridescent gem can add an eloquent and timeless touch to any ensemble you have.
Moreover, both versions can be priced expensively due to a lack of production. In fact, only one in every ten thousand oysters are actually capable of producing a pearl and even then, the pearl may not always uphold the desired shape and luster. Therefore, all pearls are considered to be of great value.
In the end, cultured pearls have most of the same attributes as natural pearls. However, cultured pearls are undeniably easier to aquire than natural pearls and can often possess a more diversified appeal due to its creation by man and not nature. That being said, when it comes to selecting the natural or cultured version of this luminous stone, it’s all a matter of personal preference!