Frequently Asked Questions About Pearl & Shell Jewelry

What Are Cultured Pearls?

Most pearl jewelry in the marketplace today is made up of cultured pearls.  This means that the pearls were produced with human assistance by oysters or other mollusks at a pearl farm (as opposed to being found and collected by divers). To create a cultured pearl, a pearl farmer will trigger the natural process of pearl formation by inserting a small irritant into the oyster or mollusk. The oyster will then surround it with layer after layer of nacre. It is this nacre that gives pearls their characteristic beautiful luster. Creating a cultured pearl can take from 6 months to 3 years, depending on the type and size of pearl, and it requires both constant care and clean, pure water.

What Types of Pearls Are There?

Cultured pearls may either be freshwater pearls or saltwater pearls, depending on the type of oyster or mollusk that produces them and the climate where the oyster lives. 

Freshwater pearls are the most plentiful and affordable type of pearl on the market.  They come in a wide variety of shapes and colors, and are sometimes dyed to create a bright colorful look. 

Saltwater pearls come in several varieties. Akoya pearls are typically round, white (sometimes with a rose overtone), and are often used to make classic pearl necklaces or pearl earrings. Tahitian and South Sea Pearls are large and valuable, and come in diverse colors such as black, peacock, golden and white.

What Is Mother of Pearl?

Mother of Pearl is a type of shell.  It comes from the inside shell of a pearl-producing oyster or mollusk.  This shell is made up of nacre, the same material the oyster produces to coat a pearl.

Pearl and shell jewelry information courtesy of MMA International's Silver Stars Collection.