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Pearl Fast Facts

These cool pearl facts are important tidbits of knowledge every jewelry designer working with pearls should know. Learn about cultivating freshwater pearls and various shapes so you know what to look for when you are bead shopping. Browse our different pearl fact categories and get started learning about these beautiful components.

Pearl Cultivation
Considered the only gemstone that is produced by a living essence in nature, the term "pearl" can refer to both natural and cultured ones. Natural pearls are considered ones found in mollusks in the wild. These pearls have been untouched by humans in their creation, meaning they are completely organic. Cultured pearls are those produced by inserting mantle tissue into a mother oyster. These pearls are by no means lesser in quality than natural pearls, but humans have intervened to complete the process of their creation. This pearl farming process begins with a tiny piece of mantle tissue or mother of pearl particle, known as an irritant. The irritant is implanted into a mollusk, either an oyster or a mussel, which then coats it with multiple layers of a substance known as nacre. Over time, the gradual coating develops into a pearl. Most pearls used in jewelry today are cultured pearls.

What is a Freshwater Pearl
A freshwater pearl is defined as one produced in freshwater shellfish, which are found in places such as ponds, lakes and rivers. These pearls are cultivated using mantle tissue, meaning they are more durable and will last longer in jewelry. These are the most common and are gaining popularity among designers due to their availability and affordability. The most desired freshwater pearls will contain uniform, high-quality nacre. Nacre is the substance in the smooth layers that make up the shape.

Saltwater pearls are those cultivated from mother oysters living in tropical oceans or lagoons. Common saltwater pearls are Tahitian pearls, South Sea pearls and Akoya pearls.

Pearl Beads Come in Many Different Shapes
When shopping for freshwater pearls, it's important to recognize the various shapes they are found in. Each shape can help determine which style is best for your particular design. The three most common are button, baroque and keshi.
  • Button pearls are shaped like their namesake—round on one side and flat on the other.
  • Baroque pearls, or off-round pearls, are the most common. These irregular-shaped pearls are typically those that stay in the cultivation process the longest, and the most valued ones are the saltwater variety.
  • Keshi pearls are free-form pearls that occur when the mollusk rejects the irritant. Meaning "poppy seed" in Japanese, keshi pearls are also known as "poppy seed pearls" and make fun accents in jewelry designs.

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