Pearl Buyer Guide for Different Types of Pearls


Pearl buying is not as simple as picking the first thing you see in the store. Ideally, you want to look for something that is high quality and goes good with your wardrobe and dress style but without breaking the bank. There are many things to take into consideration when choosing pearls, such as the size, appearance, color, type, the location it was grown in and the way it was cultivated.

To ensure that you will make the best choice possible, here’s a short guide to help you find the perfect match.

First, Let Us Talk Type

The first thing you have to consider is the pearl type. In the broadest sense possible, commercial pearls are mainly split into two categories: freshwater pearls and saltwater pearls, each having their own characteristics, advantages and disadvantages.

Freshwater pearls are mainly cultivated in mussels, and come in a wide array of shapes and colors. Most often, they are found in the baroque shape, meaning they are lumpy and no larger than 6 millimeters.

Saltwater pearls, on the other hand, grow in oysters, and are generally classified by the location they were grown in, or simply by the oyster species. Saltwater pearls, too, feature many colors, so you should not be concerned about limiting yourself to a certain palette.

Note that, while some of these following pearls are quite of expensive and out of many people’s price range, familiarizing yourself with as many varieties as possible will help you make an informed choice.

  • Akoya Pearls, which are named after the Akoya oyster, a species found in Japan, are what many people associate mentally with the concept of the classic pearl. Featuring a milky white color (although you can find rose colored Akoyas if you know where to look), their size varies between 3 and 10 mm. They are great both for casual and formal occasions and go well with a wide variety of clothes. As for the cost, Akoya pearls prices can range between $25 and $1000, with some going even higher.
  • South Sea White Pearls, similar to Akoya varieties, are grown in oysters. They are collected on the shores of Burma, Okinawa, Indonesia, and Australia. They are larger and shinier, but because they are extracted only when they exceed 9 mm in size, they tend to cost more.
  • The conch variety are not pearls in the traditional sense in terms of build and shape. This is because they are non-nacreal, and usually formed inside conch shells, hence their bright pink and peach shades, and intricate patterns.

As tempting as it might be to go for the most expensive pearls that you can afford, it is not entirely necessary to do so. One thing you have to remember is that, when matching clothes with pearls (more on that later) the shape and type of jewelry matters more than the purity and the cost of the stone itself.

Natural vs. Cultured Pearls

Another thing you will have to consider before buying pearls is the source. Cultured pearls, as the name suggests, are developed by specialized farmers who inject substances into the oysters in a controlled environment to speed up the production process.  Natural pearls, however, are grown (and harvested) in the wild. Naturally, due to the difficulty of finding and harvesting said natural pearls intact, they tend to be more expensive and rare.

However, this does not take away at all from the quality and beauty of cultured pearls. In terms of shape, size and build, there is virtually no discernable difference between the two. You can find cultured pearls for as little as $35 or, if you want to indulge yourself, there are cultured variants in the thousands of dollars. Whether or not you consider one superior over the other is up to you.

3 string pearl necklace with halo of diamonds around a centre stone on a black velvet background

‘’Pearls are Always Appropriate’’ – Jackie Kennedy

Pearls are far from being outdated, they are iconic pieces of jewelry, as popular as diamonds. They have been making a big comeback as far as 2015, when the Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, America’s former First Lady Michelle Obama and Sarah Jessica Parker were seen accessorizing their outfits with pearls.

Like all things related to fashion and jewelry, their popularity comes in cycles – and designers, as well as manufacturers, are reinventing them for modern women. And the fact that pearl related pieces are amongst the top-selling jewelry items on Amazon stands as living proof of this statement. So, there is no reason to restrain yourself from wearing pearls out of a fear of looking like your grandmother – as Jackie Kennedy once said, ‘’pearls are always appropriate’’, and considering the fashion staple as she was (and still is to some degree), it is no wonder why pearls are so big right now.

In terms of jewelry type, the most common pearl piece people choose is the necklace. These can range in length, pearl size, and number of strands. In terms of strand options, the worlds’s your oyster (get it?). Princess length necklaces with graduated pearls are adequate for a classy, day to day look, while multi-strand necklaces with uniform pearls are good for an evening out in the city and formal occasions. Let us take a look at other necklace lengths to give you a better idea of what the market has to offer:

  • Opera, falls just below the bust, and are best suited for theatre or opera concerts.
  • Chockers sit at the base of the neck. Formal or business dinners.
  • Matinee necklaces hang above the bust, which makes them perfect for summer dresses.
  • Ropes are long strands of pearls that measure about 36 inches in length. They can be matched both with formal and casual clothes.

However, this does not mean you should limit yourself to wearing solely necklaces. The use of pearls in rings, earrings and bracelets is just as common, so the only question you will have to ask yourself is whether or not they fit your wardrobe and lifestyle. When wearing a necklace – other jewelry type combination, you should go for asymmetry. Earrings, for example, go very well with ropes, while bracelets are best matched with matinee or choker necklaces.

Pearls Need Love and Attention, Too

Due to the fact that pearls are essentially organic gemstones, they are quite delicate and require lots of care and attention. This fact alone might discourage some people from wearing pearls altogether, but most of the damages can be easily avoided by building your grooming routine around the pearls.

The two things you must pay the most attention to are perfumes and hairsprays, as they can affect the color and the quality of the pearls. Therefore, make sure to put your pearls on last, after splashing yourself with perfume, and removing them first, as soon as you get home.

As for maintaining the quality of the pearls, if you notice them getting dirty or dull, use a dry, soft cloth to gently rub them of dirt and things that should not be stuck to your precious jewelry. Use water only as a last resort, only if the above-mentioned method does not work.

To wash them, you will need a weak soap (baby shampoo works fine as well), and a gentle brush – the one you use for manicuring. Once you have cleaned the pearls, pat them dry with a soft cloth, making sure not to leave any excess water on the pearls.

To conclude this entry, the one thing you have to keep in mind is that the elegance of your attire is not dependent on whether or not the pearls are cultured, natural, Akoya or even their value. The only thing that matters is their condition, and the effort that you put into maintaining them. Due to their fragile nature, even the most expensive of pearls look bad when neglected.


Just like everyone got suddenly obsessed with 60’s fashion when Mad Men premiered back in 2007, pearls are making a big comeback, and by the looks of it, they are here to stay. Furthermore, famous designers like Miu Miu, Ellery and Gucci are contributing to their resurgence and mainstream impact by using pearls in their ads.
Whether you prefer one type over the other, natural as opposed to cultured, it does not matter – every pearl is special in the right hands.

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