There are 4 main types of cultured pearls --- South Sea Pearls, Tahitian Pearls, Japanese Cultured Akoya Pearls and Chinese Freshwater Pearls.

 

South Sea Pearls

The most famous and highly desired of the White South Sea Pearls come from Australia. The Australian South Sea Pearls are the rarest and finest cultured pearls in the world. Australian South Sea Pearls range in size from 10 mm up to 18 mm and in very rare instances even up to 20 mm. These pearls are grown in the world’s largest pearl oyster, the PINCTADA MAXIMA, also called the Silver-Lipped Oyster, which occurs naturally in the seas off north-west Australia and northern Australia.

White South Sea Pearls are also produced in Indonesia, the Philippines and in Burma/Myanmar. However due to various environmental influences, even though it is the same oyster, the pearls produced in these countries tend to be more cream to gold colour with very little silver, white or pink. Gold coloured South Sea Pearls are mainly grown in Indonesia and the Philippines.

 

Tahitian Pearls

Black South Sea Pearls originate mainly from Tahiti and for this reason are commonly called Tahitian South Sea Pearls. The Black South Sea pearls are also grown in the Cook Islands and more recently in Fiji. The oyster used to produce these beautiful pearls is commonly known as the Black-Lip Oyster or PINCTADA MARGARITIFERA. This oyster is larger than the Akoya oyster but still smaller than the silver and gold lip oysters of Australia and Southeast Asia. For this reason the Tahitian pearls are slightly smaller in size, ranging from 7 mm to 15 mm with most being in the 9-11 mm range.

There is an enormous variety of natural colours in the Tahitian South Sea Pearls changing from black to grey to green to silver. It is claimed there are more than 20 different colour tones! The most prized colours are the peacock green, which is similar to the greenish black colour of a peacock feather, and the reddish black colour known as aubergine or eggplant.

 

Japanese Cultured Akoya Pearls

The Akoya pearls are considered the original cultured pearls. They are grown predominantly in Japan and also China. The pearl oyster species used for Akoya pearl culture is PINCTADA FUCATA. Akoya pearls generally are cultivated for only one year and the sizes range from 2 mm to 10 mm although most of the pearls are between 6-8 mm. They are white to grey in colour with a pinkish, greenish or yellowish tint. The Akoya pearls are noted for their fine luster.

 

Chinese Freshwater Pearls

The Chinese Freshwater pearls are grown in the freshwater lakes and rivers of China in very large freshwater mussel shells. Another major difference between the culturing of Freshwater Pearls and South Sea Pearls, is that in the majority of cases no solid bead nucleus is used in the production of Freshwater Pearls. Instead, the pearl is produced by implanting a piece of tissue from another mussel into the mantle of the host mussel. This method allows the farmers to produce 10 or more pearls in each mussel shell allowing for enormous volumes to be produced. The growing period is quite long, usually 3-5 years.