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All About June Birthstone: Discover Pearl Types and Their Formation

Jun 15, 2021 | Ileana Djujic

It is difficult to imagine more of a household name gem than pearl.  Yet, not everyone might know that pearl is the traditional birthstone for June. The traditional list of birthstones originated in Poland between 16th and 18th centuries.  Today’s calendar still features traditional birthstones in addition to the  newly incorporated “modern birthstones” list, which was published by the National Association of Jewelers in 1912.  June’s modern birthstone is alexandrite.


Pearl Etymology 


Pearl is famed for being the only gem created by the living creature.  This organic gemstone can be found in both salt and freshwater mollusks, in various oceans, rivers, and lakes around the world.  Natural occurring pearls are extremely rare and, therefore, costly. This is why the majority of pearls on market today are cultured.  Cultured pearls are still formed by mollusks, but instead of forming by chance in the wilderness of deep waters, they grow in the man-controlled environment.  This concept is referred to as pearl farming.


How Are Pearls Formed?


Natural Pearls


Natural pearls are formed when an irritant, usually a grain of sand or a similar particle, enters the oyster.  As a defense mechanism, the oyster starts releasing the fluid to coat the irritant. Several layers of coating, known as nacre, must be deposited before a beautiful lustrous pearl is born.


Cultured Pearls


Cultured pearls undergo the same process as natural pearls except that the irritant is surgically implanted into an oyster by a human before being placed back into the water.  This enables pearl farmers to control the size and color of the pearls they’re cultivating.

Pearl Types by Origin 


Pearls are split into two major categories – freshwater and saltwater. As the name suggests, freshwater pearls are those found in rivers and lakes, while saltwater pearls come from oceans.  Additionally, saltwater pearls are further divided into different subcategories, which we will discuss later.


Freshwater Pearls


Freshwater pearls are more abundant and less expensive than saltwater pearls. They come in a vast number of shapes and colors.  China is the biggest producer of freshwater pearls with the largest variety.  Other considerable sources are Japan and the US.


Saltwater Pearls


Saltwater pearls hold a higher value than freshwater pearls by producing higher-grade luxurious quality pearls.  Three major varieties of saltwater pearls are Akoya, Tahitian, and the South Sea.


Akoya Pearls 


Akoya is a Japanese pearl produced by the Pinctada fucata oyster. Akoyas are the most common among saltwater pearls. Also, they’re the first cultured pearls to exist.  Mikimoto Kokichi, a Japanese entrepreneur, initiated the process of Akoya pearls creation in the early 1900s and is recognized as the founder of the cultured pearl industry. Akoyas are considered the classic pearls used in jewelry, especially necklaces, with perfect round shapes, bright glossy luster, and neutral colors.


Tahitian Pearls


Often referred to as “black pearls”, Tahitian pearls come in a variety of colors although it’s true that they have predominantly darker hues.  These are the pearls that have that glamorous metallic look about them and colors such as deep green, blue, purple, and gray.  What is fascinating about Tahitian pearls is that they display the endless combination of colors found in a single pearl.  In other words, they are multicolor pearls.  This also increases their value and price.  Tahitian pearls are produced in the mollusk shell of a mature Pinctada margaritifera oyster and are mainly found along French Polynesia and Tahiti, hence their name.


South Sea Pearls 


The ultimate luxury pearls – South Sea pearls – are the most sought-after cultured pearls on the market. Produced by the Pinctada maxima oyster, they bear the highest value due to their scarcity and large size.  South Sea pearls are the largest among all and, in that sense, the most desirable and glamorous.  They also have the hardest nacre, which means that they are the strongest and most durable of all pearls.  Furthermore, they are prized for their satin-like luster and silky overtones.

South Sea Pearls take a longer time to grow than other pearls.  Their growth time is anywhere between two to four years compared to the Akoya pearls that take about half a year to develop. Their name also indicates their birthplace as they are found in the South Pacific Ocean.  Based on their color, they are split into two categories: Golden South Sea and White South Sea pearls.


Golden South Sea Pearls


Golden South Sea pearls are predominantly grown in the Philippines and Indonesia.  Their warm golden complexion gives them their name. Typically, their value depends on the color as the deeper it gets the higher the price point.  Colors range from creamy white to deep gold, which is sometimes referred to as yellow gold or champagne.


White South Sea Pearls


White South Sea pearls come in shades of white and silver and are found off of the Australian coast of the South Pacific Ocean.  They are the rarer of the two types of South Sea pearls and subsequently have the highest value.  They’re renowned for their opulence and splendor and are a symbol of elegance and grandeur.


Pearl Types by Shape


Keshi Pearls


Keshi Pearls are a unique pearl phenomenon.  Instead of forming as a result of a nucleus that is created in the oyster’s soft mantle tissue, like all other pearls, they form independently of it.  In other words, they form accidentally when a bead nucleus is rejected during the production of cultured pearls.  Therefore, Keshi pearls are completely natural and are nothing but pure nacre.  And because of this, there is nothing to stop the reflection of light during their creation, making them extremely lustrous and glowy.  Only a few millimeters in size, they look like a misshaped pebbles and have a variety of different shapes.  One of those is referred to as cornflake pearl.  All of this makes Keshi pearls highly desirable.



Baroque Pearls


Baroque Pearls are not the traditional perfectly round pearls we’re used to seeing, but have an irregular, uneven, and lumpy look.  They are common among cultured freshwater pearls although they can be found in saltwater pearls too, usually in a teardrop shape.  Baroque pearls make up only 10% of the freshwater pearls, meaning that they are even rarer in saltwater pearls.  They are regarded as more of modern pearl types and cater to authentic pearl seekers. Baroque pearls were used greatly in Victorian and in Art Nouveau jewelry pieces.


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