How Are Pearls Formed Naturally Vs In A Cultured Environment?

Pearls are basically of two types – natural and culivated, depending on how they came into existence. Natural pearls that have been formed naturally in the shell of an oyester are very rare and expensive. The cultivated pearls are what you get to see more often as they are easily found and affordable. Each of these types can again be subcategorised into fresh water and sea water pearls depending on where they are formed.

Many first time buyers get confused between freshwater and cultured pearls and whether or not they are the same. To understand this it would be best to start from the beginning on how pearls are formed.

How Are Pearls Formed?

Pearls are formed inside the shell of a mollusk. This happens when a tiny piece of grain, sand or parasite enters the shell. The shells of the mollusk keep opening and closing as the mollusk keeps working on these in the hope of food entering. In the process many different, undigestable particles also enter.

As the mollusk cannot eject the tiny piece from the shell so it starts forming layers of nacre around it. Nacre is an iridescent substance and the mollusk will keep adding more and more layers. Over the years, this small piece of foreign particle that had entered the shell will become the mother of pearl with a beautiful, lustrous, thick coating around it to form a single piece of pearl.

Cultivated Pearls: The above process is what happens naturally in the environment. However this kind of pearls are very rare. When the same process is forced by a human intervention, it is called a cultivated pearl.

The pearl necklace that you wear is most probably made from cultivated pearls where a small bead or tissue piece is inserted into the molusk shell. The mollusk is then dropped back into water to be cultured. The natural process of nacre deposit then starts from there on to form the pearl.

Where the culture happens is what determines, if the pearl is a fresh water or sea water pearl. Both have their unique characteristics.

Fresh Vs sea water pearls

Characteristics of fresh water pearl are different from sea water pearls in many ways.

  • They have a soft lustre in comparison
  • They are more durable that salt water ones
  • Fresh water pearls come in a variety of colours from soft pinks, peaches, lavender, whites to even darker shades like peacock blue and black

Cultivated pearls are as beautiful and genuine as fresh water pearls. In fact they resemble their natutal cousins so closely that even experts find it difficult to decipher between the two just by looking at them.