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Pearl Education

A pearl is naturally created by a marine-based organism called a mollusc; oyster. Natural pearls are rare and hard to find. This is why many of the pearls that are available to consumers today are cultured pearls. In order to produce a cultured pearl a grain of sand or a bead is introduced within an oyster or a mussel. This irritates the mollusk, which instigates a response wherein the grain of sand or bead is coated with smooth layers of a substance called nacre. This crystallized element aids in forming the shell that results in giving the pearl its unique colour and lustre.

Cultured whole pearls are grouped by origin. These categories are comprised of four areas:

  • species of mollusks
  • geographical location
  • salt water, and
  • fresh water.

Below are four types of cultured pearls that NZ Jewellers can source. The selection of pearls are sourced from saltwater & freshwater pearl farms from around the world.

Akoya pearls originate mainly in Japan and China. The oyster that produces Akoyas has the common name of Pinctada Fucata. These pearls range from 2 – 9mm in diameter, averaging 6-7mm. They also display a white appearance with a rose hue. The highest percentage of harvested Akoyas are spherical in shape. Due to the consistent size and shape of the Akoya, we often find that this quality of pearl brings forth perfectly matched strands and earrings.

The South Sea cultured pearl is known to Australia, Indonesia, and also the Philippines. The common name for the oyster in these areas is Pinctada Maxima. There are two kinds of Pinctada Maxima; gold-lipped and silver-lipped. While appearing golden, silver, or pale with a satin finish look, they are quite different from the reflective nature of the Akoya. In Australia, South Sea pearls are found in the wild and can range from 10 – 15mm in diameter, but the averagea is 13mm. However those found in Indonesia and the Philippines are hatchery-bred and usually therefore are about 2mm smaller in size. The South Sea quality tends to be much more expensive than Akoya quality, so grouping them together in large matched strands is less practical as the price tends to start from well over $10,000 NZD for a 50 cm strand. South Sea pearls are more often set into necklaces, rings, and other jewellery designs that require fewer pearls.

Tahitian cultured pearl come from French Polynesian lagoons and also from the Cook Islands. The common name of the oyster that creates the Tahitian is Pinctada Margaritifera (also known as the black-lipped oyster). Producing a wide array of colours such as peacock, aubergine, and pistachio, these pearls range from 8 – 14mm diameter, averaging at 9 ½ mm. Much like the South Sea cultured pearls, the Tahitian quality is more affordable when sold in jewellery that accentuates singles, pairs, or sets.

Freshwater cultured pearls are usually sourced from southern China. These pearls do not derive from an oyster and are usually smaller and less spherical in shape. The mollusks that produce these pearls are called mussels. Their colour can be unique because the colour is based upon the natural attributes of the mussel as well as the fact that it can be treated or irradiated to achieve a more desired colour Freshwater perals can be famred in more abundance because the mussel can be harvested more than once, which results in several pearls at one time. Each of those pearls range between 4 – 11mm in size. As freshwater pearls are easier to produce they are a much more affordable option when compared to the other cultured pearls.

Pearl Colour

Available in a rainbow of colours; pinkish, which is often called rose, silvery white, greenish white, creamy, golden overtones, gray, cognac and black.

Pearl Size

The diameter of a pearl measured in millimeters. Generally, the larger the pearl, the rarer and more valuable it is.

Pearl Shape

The more spherical and symmetrical the pearl the more valuable it will be. Baroque pearls, which are any unusually shaped and asymmetrical pearl, can be very attractive and are usually less expensive than round pearls.


Just like diamonds pearls too have natural flaws that are taken into consideration with regard to the value of the pearl. Fewer spots, discolorations, cracks or blemishes, will result in a more expensive pearl.


Lustre is that lovely glow and brilliance that a pearl can show. The longer the pearl is left in the oyster to form, the thicker the layer of nacre surrounding the pearl, the higher the lustre, the more valuable.