Natural Pearls vs. Cultured Pearls

Natural Pearls vs. Cultured Pearls

Pearls evoke a sense of sophistication, style, and opulence. When you are shopping for pearl jewelry, you will encounter a variety of different pearls, and you may be wondering which types are right for you. When it comes to naturally occurring pearls and cultured pearls, there are a few distinct differences. Understanding those differences will help you make an informed decision when purchasing pearl jewelry. Use this guide to help answer your questions about these types of pearls and find the perfect option for you.

Close up of a woman's arm featuring two pearl bracelets
1

How Natural Pearls Are Created

Natural pearls occur in the wild without any human assistance. The pearls grow inside certain types of freshwater mussels or saltwater oysters, which determines whether they are saltwater or freshwater pearls, and they are extremely rare. After someone finds the pearls, they are harvested, cleaned, and made into jewelry.


2

How Cultured Pearls Are Created

Pearl farmers grow cultured pearls under tightly controlled conditions. Farmers plant a core made up of mussel shell into an oyster or mussel; then the oyster or mussel forms a pearl around this irritant, just as they do when forming natural pearls. Pearl farmers design cultured pearls from start to finish, ensuring they are perfectly shaped and luminous. Once harvested, the pearls are cleaned, and some are treated and bleached before being made into jewelry.


3

Differences in Appearance

Natural pearls vary in size and luminosity, though most have a stunning iridescent quality. They can grow in a variety of shapes and sizes simply because they are wild. Cultured pearls have some of the same qualities, but they will most often have a uniform shape and size. They can also be dyed or bleached to achieve a different color and luster.


4

Cultured Pearls are Not Imitation

Cultured pearls are often thought of as imitation pearls, but the two should not be confused. Cultured pearls are made of the same material as natural pearls and can take up to seven years to create, depending on the type of pearl. Imitation pearls are often made of plastic or glass and can be manufactured quite easily and quickly. Keep this in mind when you are shopping for pearl jewelry.


5

Price of Pearls

Pearl prices can vary greatly. Because natural pearls are rare and difficult to find, they are typically quite expensive. Perfect strands of natural pearls are even more uncommon and can be among the most expensive pieces of jewelry. Cultured pearls can also be expensive, depending on their luster, shape, and size, but are available in a range of prices. Both natural and cultured pearls of all varieties can be a valuable jewelry investment, so shop for and purchase your pearl jewelry carefully.



by Nick Anderson Jewerly Specialist
JANUARY 27, 2017

Nick doesn't own much jewelry, but he has learned to appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty of pearl accessories. He writes for Overstock.com during the day, but when he's not at work he can be found enjoying the outdoors in his home state of Utah.