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Jewelry Education

Major Pearl Varieties

Akoya - These cultured saltwater pearls are usually found around the islands of Japan, and are considered among the finest in the world.

South Sea or Tahitian - These large pearls are cultured from specific species of oysters in saltwater areas and can be white, silver, gray, golden, brown, or black. The black variety are often called Tahitian pearls.

South Sea Keshi - These irregularly shaped pearls actually grow alongside cultivated pearls. They are formed when the implanted nucleus is expelled and are grown around the remaining shell tissue. Composed primarily of nacre, these pearls grow unexpectedly inside the mollusk.

Freshwater - Originally these pearls were known for their irregularly shapes, but with improved technology, they are being cultivated with a much higher degree of roundness. These are grown in mollusks found in freshwater lakes and river beds.

Mabé (pronounced mah-BEE) or Blister Pearls - These pearls have a hemispherical shape that is formed by the nucleus being placed against the inside of the oyster's shell.

Simulated or imitation pearls - These are completely man-made (usually of glass or plastic coated with lacquer or fish scales to make them iridescent) and are not cultivated inside a mollusk or oyster. Majorca is a well-known center for the production of imitation pearls. Although there are some good imitation pearls available, few possess the luster and orient of natural cultured pearls. A simple test reveals whether or not a pearl is genuine: If one rubs a pearl against the surface of his tooth, a genuine one feels gritty, while an imitation feels smooth.

Dyed or Tinted Pearls - These are white pearls that are artificially colored by a coloring agent that permeates the porous surface of the pearl. This technique is often used in trying to simulate dark colors, such as black, blue, and gray.

Conch Pearl - This Caribbean mollusk-made gem bears very little resemblance to other pearls, other than the fact that is born in a shell and it is derived from a snail shell rather than an oyster shell. Most often, it is found in a variety of shades of pinks from deep rose (in smaller sizes) or salmon orange to eye shadow pink. They are prized for a "flame structure", which may be described as appearing like pink velvet with delicate white wavy lines.

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