5 Types of Pearls and How to Differentiate Them

Author: DeGem | 2023-07-15

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The 5 Types Of Pearls Used In Jewellery - DeGem


Let’s talk pearls. They’ve been the crown jewels of fancy ladies since the days of Cleopatra to Elizabeth I — even Marilyn Monroe made them her thing. And who can blame her? Pearl jewellery is lustrous, rare, and timeless; the perfect trifecta.

But while some may look similar from a faraway glance, there are actually five different types of pearls used in jewellery —Akoya, freshwater, South Sea, Tahitian, Conch, and Melo Melo— each different in size, shape, colour, and lustre. Here’s a quick guide to help you tell them apart the next time you’re out shopping for pearl jewellery.


Akoya Pearls

Perfectly round in shape, Akoya pearls have a deep and luminous nacre, shimmering with an iridescent mother-of-pearl radiance that any woman would be proud to possess.

Originally from China and Japan, Akoya pearls are saltwater cultured pearls derived from Akoya oysters. They’re available in a range of pastel shades like yellow, light pink, and white, and are widely regarded as the classic pearl choice.
Because the science of culturing Akoyas has taken over 100 years to refine, there’s a lot more uniformity in their size and shape compared to other types of pearls. They’e also smallish (about 7mm on average), making them perfect accents for delicate jewellery like rings, earrings and single-strand necklaces.


Freshwater Cultured Pearls

Freshwater pearls are the most commonly produced pearls, and come in a wide range of shapes and colours, at lower price points. Freshwater pearls tend to be oval-shaped, but you can also find a range of contoured shapes, including baroque, button, and teardrop styles.

Freshwater pearls are relatively easy to farm — often each freshwater mussel can produce up to 50 pearls at a time, and they are usually cultured in freshwater lakes and ponds. This is one of the reasons they can be more affordable than other types of pearls; they’re simply more readily available.

This doesn’t make them any less special, though. While available in a range of sizes, shapes and colours; round, lustrous freshwater pearls are rarer and considered high-quality.


South Sea Pearls


South Sea Pearl Used In An Earring - DeGemSouth Sea Pearl Used In A Pearl - DeGemSouth Sea Pearl Used In A Ring - DeGem


It’s no surprise that South Sea pearls are the fanciest of pearls. Their high value is attributed to their large size, thick nacre and luster that is described as soft and luxurious.

These gems develop inside a super-sensitive oyster called Pinctada maxima, and can require up to 5 years for a single pearl to grow, making them some of the most difficult types of pearls to cultivate. Typically grown in Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia, they are also the largest of all cultivated pearls, measuring a whopping 9-20 millimetres in diameter.

In colour, South Sea cultured pearls can range from white to silver or golden, depending on the type of oyster. South sea pearls in white or silver, with aqua and blue overtones are produced by silver-lipped oysters; south sea pearls in golden, champagne and cream overtones are produced by golden-lipped oysters. No matter the colour, inherently South Sea pearls luster is unmatched by other cultured pearls, as they radiate with a glow from within, rather than having the mirror-like shine from other cultured pearls.


Tahitian Pearls


Tahitian Pearl Used In A Ring - DeGemTahitian Pearl Used In A Pendant - DeGem


Sometimes referred as black pearls, Tahitian Pearls are highly regarded for their dazzling depth and palette of complementary dark colours. Ranges from gray, brown to black, with a variety of either blue, green, purple or pink overtones.

These pearls are cultivated in the black-lipped oyster known as Pinctada margaritifera cumingii, which is indigenous to French Polynesia, Fiji, the Sea of Cortez, and the Cook Islands. Cultivation usually takes 16-24 months.

Truly black Tahitian pearls hold a very special place among the world’s most beautiful pearls.


Conch Pearls 

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The Conch is touted as today’s ‘rediscovered’ pearl, coming into the spotlight in the luxury world once again as society desires for exceptional and unique treasures. Typically seen in photos as pink because this is the most prized colour, conch pearls are also found in orange, white, yellow, and brown.

Visually, Conch pearls dramatically differ from oyster pearls, because they are porcellaneous pearls—meaning they possess a porcelain-like appearance, with an extraordinary optical effect. Hold one of these pearls in your hands and you will be bewitched by its dazzling flame-like pattern and crystals that merry-go-round underneath its surface as you turn them.

Produced naturally by Queen conch mollusks, which are large sea snails living in the Caribbean Sea, one conch pearl is found out of every 10,000 conchs — making these beauties a considerable rarity.

The most prized colours by collectors are anywhere from deep rose red, salmon orange to deep pink, and Conch Pearls with sizes 4 carats and beyond are considered extremely rare and valuable.


Melo Melo Pearls


Melo Melo Pearl Used In A Pendant - DeGem

The Melo Melo pearl is known as the world’s rarest and most valuable pearl. In fact, calling the Melo “rare” is a rather serious understatement. Only the most seasoned and highest tier of jewellers are able to offer Melo pearls – they are collector’s items, on par with vivid coloured diamonds. At DeGem, we offer artfully designed Melo pearl jewellery, each one-of-a-kind.

Renowned for its bright orange colour and brilliant flame pattern, the Melo pearl is also known as the Dragon Pearl. Like conch pearls, Melo Melos are non-nacreous; instead, they are composed of calcite and aragonite, which gives them a smooth and porcelain-like surface etched with brilliant flame patterns.

Hailing from the Melo snail in the Andaman Sea and the South China Sea, the Melo pearl can be found in Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. It often takes the Melo snail a decade to grow a single pearl, let alone forming it into a wearable size of a pebble or oval shape.

The value of a Melo Melo pearl is just as much determined by its beauty as it is by its rarity, and as no two Melos are the same, they are valued individually depending on its characteristics such as colour, size and sharpness of its flame-like structure.




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Ensconce yourself in a world of impeccable style with DeGem’s exquisite pearl jewellery collection. Accentuate your look with classic designs or go all out with contemporary pieces. From classic white and cream hues to pretty pastel shades and radiant iridescent tones — find the perfect pearl jewellery to suit your personal aesthetic — let DeGem take you on a journey of discovery today.

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