Pearls are one of the oldest and most cherished gems in human history. They have been admired for their natural beauty, rarity and symbolism for thousands of years. However, natural pearls are very scarce and expensive, as they are formed by chance when a foreign object enters a living mollusk and triggers a defensive reaction that coats it with layers of nacre. To meet the growing demand for pearls, people have developed methods to cultivate pearls by artificially inducing this process. These are called cultured pearls, and they are the most common type of pearl on the market today.


What is Cultured Pearls?


Cultured pearls are pearls that are grown by inserting a foreign material into a living mollusk, such as an oyster or a mussel. The material can be a piece of shell, a bead or even a tissue graft from another mollusk. The mollusk then secretes nacre around the material to form a pearl sac. Over time, the nacre layers build up and create a cultured pearl. Cultured pearls can be harvested after several months or years, depending on the type of mollusk and pearl.


Who invented Cultured Pearls?


The originator of cultured pearls was Kokichi Mikimoto, a Japanese entrepreneur who founded his company in 1893. He was inspired by the work of British biologist William Saville-Kent and Japanese researchers Tatsuhei Mise and Tokichi Nishikawa who developed the perliculture process. Mikimoto experimented with different techniques and materials to produce round cultured pearls from Akoya oysters. He obtained his first successful harvest in 1896 and patented his method in 1908. He then expanded his business to other regions and types of oysters, such as South Sea and Tahitian oysters. Mikimoto is widely regarded as the father of modern pearl culture and his company is still one of the leading producers of high-quality cultured pearls today.


Types of Cultured Pearls


There are four major types of cultured pearls: Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian and Freshwater. Each type has its own characteristics, such as size, shape, color and luster.


Akoya pearls are the most familiar type of saltwater cultured pearl, with a classic white or cream color and a round shape. They are mainly 3 to 8mm in diameter.

South Sea pearls are large and lustrous pearls that come in white, silvery white and gold colors. They are mainly 9 to 16mm in diameter, although some can be well over 20mm.

Tahitian pearls are exotic and colorful pearls that range from black to green, blue, purple and silver. They are mainly 8 to 18mm in diameter, although they can grow to 21mm.

Freshwater pearls are the most diverse type of cultured pearl, with various shapes, sizes and colors. They can be round or irregular (baroque), white or dyed (pink, lavender, etc.), small or large (up to 15mm).


Are Cultured Pearls Considered Fake Pearls?


Cultured pearls are not fake pearls; they are genuine pearls produced by living mollusks with human assistance. They have the same chemical composition, structure and optical properties as natural pearls; they only differ in their origin. However, some people may confuse cultured pearls with imitation or simulated pearls; these are artificial products made from glass, plastic, ceramic or other materials that mimic the appearance of real pearls but have no organic origin or value.


Are Cultured Pearls Worth It?


Cultured pearls are worth it if you appreciate their beauty, quality and variety; they offer more options than natural pearls at more affordable prices. The value of cultured pearls depends on several factors, such as type, size, shape, color, luster, surface quality and nacre thickness; generally speaking, larger, rounder, whiter, more lustrous, smoother and thicker nacre pearls are more valuable than smaller, irregular, off-white, dull, blemished and thin nacre pearls. The type of pearl also affects its value; for example, South Sea pearls are more expensive than Akoya pearls because they are rarer and larger. The value of cultured pearls can range from just US$50 to over US$165,000 depending on these factors.


Are Cultured Pearls Good Quality?


Cultured pearls are good quality if they meet certain standards of grading that evaluate their appearance and durability. The grading system for cultured pearls is not standardized or regulated by any official organization; different sellers may use different terms and criteria to grade their pearls. However, some common factors that are used to assess the quality of cultured pearls are:


Nacre: This is the layer of organic material that forms the pearl. It determines the luster, color and durability of the pearl. Thicker nacre means higher quality and longer lasting pearls.

Luster: This is the measure of how well a pearl reflects light. It gives the pearl its shine and brilliance. Higher luster means higher quality pearls.

Surface: This is the measure of how smooth and clean a pearl’s surface is. It indicates how many flaws or blemishes a pearl has. Fewer flaws mean higher quality pearls.

Shape: This is the measure of how round or symmetrical a pearl is. It affects the aesthetic appeal and value of the pearl. Rounder shapes mean higher quality pearls.


How to Care for Cultured Pearls


Cultured pearls are delicate gems that require proper care to maintain their beauty and longevity; they can be damaged by chemicals, heat, friction and moisture. Some tips for caring for cultured pearls are:


Store them separately from other jewelry in a soft pouch or box to avoid scratches or tangles.

Clean them gently with a damp cloth after wearing them to remove any dirt, oil or perfume residue.

Avoid exposing them to harsh chemicals, such as chlorine, vinegar, ammonia or cosmetics.

Avoid wearing them in extreme temperatures, such as very hot or cold environments.

Restring them periodically if they are worn frequently or show signs of wear; use silk thread and knot between each pearl to prevent rubbing or loss.




Cultured pearls are amazing creations that combine nature’s artistry with human ingenuity. They offer a wide range of options for pearl lovers who appreciate their history, variety and value. By understanding what cultured pearls are, how they are made, what types exist, how they differ from natural or imitation pearls, how they are valued and how they should be cared for, you can make informed decisions when buying or wearing these precious gems.


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