Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls

Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls
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All that glitters is not gold. This is surely true but something that definitely glitters and complements gold is pearls.  They spice up any outfit, be it formal, casual, business or party. Pearls have an old-world charm to them, and also deliver an essence of sophistication and awe. Not only are they a great buy for you, they’re also one of the most elegant gifts ever.

Pearls have been in use in jewellery for centuries. They are one of the most sought-after gems in the world. A lot of references to pearls can also be found in the ancient mythology of different cultures across the world. Also, evidences have been found that further confirm that ancient civilizations also used pearls. They were and still are considered to be a symbol of purity and opulence. There are many different kinds of pearls depending on their colour, carat, shape and size.

Natural Pearls

These pearls are found in the sea and other major water bodies as such. They are all natural and formed without any human intervention at all.

How are natural pearls formed?

Natural pearls are formed on their own without any human aid. Pearls actually form inside the mollusk or the oysters. The oyster expels any impurity or dirt which enters the shell but sometimes it is unable to do so. So the foreign particle or object remains trapped inside the oyster. To protect its delicate body, the oyster forms a blister around the trapped foreign particle and envelops it completely. This pearl sack keeps on excreting nacre, thereby forming numerous layers which coat the irritant, and thus forms a pearl in the process. It can take close to 7-8 years to form a single pearl. Generally, very few oysters actually survive to produce a pearl and out of those which do, a very small fraction of the pearls formed are marketable as such. On top of that, those are hunted very quickly and are hence, exceedingly rare to find. This is one of the reasons why natural pearls are so expensive.

Cultured Pearls

These are produced by humans for their consumption. Unlike the natural pearls which are formed accidentally, these are cultured in controlled atmospheres.

How are pearls cultured?

The heightened scarcity of natural pearls has led to the mass development of cultured pearls. These are produced in a controlled environment unlike the natural pearls. These are produced in freshwater as well as salt water. A nucleus is injected/ inserted which in turn triggers the natural mechanism of the mollusk as it starts to release nacre. The process of formation of the pearl is pretty much the same as in case of natural pearls.

It takes much less time in cultured pearl formation as in typically 3 to 5 years. This allows the farmers to produce more number of pearls in a less time span.

How to differentiate natural pearls vs cultured pearls?

It is usually very hard to tell the difference between natural and cultured pearls by purely observing them with the naked eye. You have to usually x-ray the pearls.

1. Layers of Nacre

Generally, the natural pearls have multiple layers of nacre which form over the years whereas cultured ones usually have a single layer only.

2. Size

Natural pearls and cultured pearls vary in size.

3. Shapes

Natural pearls come in a widespread assortment of shapes and sizes since they grow in the wild. Cultured pearls, however, are mostly uniform in their size and shape as they are produced artificially.

4. Luster

Cultured pearls can also be polished to increase their luster as such unlike natural pearls.

5. Price

Natural pearls are difficult to find and are generally bigger in size which makes them a great deal pricier than the cultured ones. Perfect spotless pearls are exceedingly rare to find.

But it should be kept in mind that both natural as well as cultured pears are real pearls as such. Only the method of production is different which results in the extensive differences among them.

However, imitation pearls are not real pearls as they are made from polished glass and other materials. So, be very careful while you are out buying pearls.

How to buy pearls?

While buying pearls, there are certain characteristics that you should keep in mind. Some of those are:

1. Luster:

It is the most important factor while assessing a pearl’s true quality. Luster refers to the pearl’s intensity and brilliance, that is, the way it reflects light. It is generally calculated in terms of ‘high’ and ‘low’ along with ‘medium’ as an in-between.

High luster pearls are more valued than those with low luster. There are different categories of luster as well:

Excellent: The pearls with excellent luster are the most valued amongst all other categories. These have a mirror-like finish to them, and their surface is so smooth and shiny that you can even see your reflection in it.

Medium: Pearls with medium luster are neither too shiny nor too dull. However, the reflections might be    slightly chalky, dim and hazy.

Low: Pearls with low luster have poor reflective and refractive value. Hence, their surface is very dull and diffused as such.

2. Surface:

The surface of the pearls is also an important factor when it comes to the gradation of pearls. The surface quality depends on the amount and the various kinds of blemishes which are found on the outside of the pearl. Most pearls have some kinds of dent or imperfection on the surface. However, a small amount of spots and blemishes are acceptable generally.

The value of the pearl depends upon how visible and noticeable the blemishes are.

In this regard, there are four surface quality conditions:

○ Cleanliness

○ Slightly spotted

○ Moderately spotted

○ Heavily spotted

The pearls which have the faintest spots and a smooth surface are called spotless. These are an extremely rare find though. It should be kept in mind that just because a pearl has a few blemishes doesn’t mean that it is any less valuable.

3. Size:

The size of pearls is measured in millimeters though its diameter. They can be as small as 1 millimeter to as large as 20 millimeter. The size depends on its growth period, type, etc. Freshwater pearls usually range from 3 millimeter to 12 millimeter. These are generally smaller than the natural pearls. Saltwater pearls range from 8 millimeter to 18 millimeter. The most popular size these days is 7 to 7.5 millimeter.  It takes a lot of time to grow a beautiful and big pearl. So, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it is.

4. Shape:

Pearls come in a variety of shapes. They are generally clubbed into eight basic categories:









5. Colour:

Pearls come in lots of different colours. Some varieties are considered superior to the others on the basis of their colour as well. But that doesn’t affect the quality of the pearl in any way whatsoever. It totally depends upon the buyer’s choice generally. The colours range from white, silver, black, rose, cream to gold-toned, yellow, orange, pink, and many shades in between. Cultured pearls are mostly dyed so as to achieve the desired colour.

With such clear distinctions between the two, we hope you’ll now be able to correctly identify which one emerges out as the winner for you in this natural vs cultured pearls fight!