Understanding the Different Types of Pearls: Cultured, Freshwater, and South Sea

Pearls have long been cherished for their timeless beauty and elegance. However, not all pearls are created equal. If you're considering adding pearls to your jewelry collection, it's important to understand the differences between cultured pearls, freshwater pearls, and South Sea pearls.

Each type has its own unique characteristics, formation process, and value. Here's a comprehensive guide to help you differentiate between these stunning gems.

Cultured Pearls

Overview: Cultured pearls are pearls that are formed with human intervention. They are created by inserting a small bead or piece of tissue into an oyster or mollusk, which then secretes layers of nacre around the irritant, eventually forming a pearl.


  • Akoya Pearls
  • Freshwater Pearls
  • Tahitian Pearls
  • South Sea Pearls


  • Shape: Can vary from round to baroque (irregular).
  • Luster: Generally high, with a beautiful shine.
  • Size: Typically ranges from 2mm to 15mm, depending on the type.
  • Colors: Available in a variety of colors including white, cream, pink, and black.


  • Cultured pearls can range in price depending on their type, size, and quality.
  • Akoya and South Sea cultured pearls are often more valuable compared to freshwater cultured pearls.

Freshwater Pearls

Overview: Freshwater pearls are a type of cultured pearl, typically grown in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds, primarily in China. These pearls are formed in various species of freshwater mussels.


  • Shape: Often oval, button-shaped, or baroque, though round freshwater pearls are also available.
  • Luster: Generally softer than saltwater pearls, but high-quality freshwater pearls can have excellent luster.
  • Size: Usually ranges from 2mm to 13mm.
  • Colors: Naturally found in a variety of pastel colors, including white, pink, peach, and lavender.


  • Freshwater pearls are generally more affordable than their saltwater counterparts due to their higher availability and the fact that each mussel can produce multiple pearls at a time.
  • They offer great value for their beauty and variety.

South Sea Pearls

Overview: South Sea pearls are among the rarest and most valuable types of cultured pearls. They are primarily farmed in the waters of Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. These pearls are produced by the Pinctada maxima oyster, which is the largest pearl-producing oyster.


  • Shape: Typically round, though baroque shapes are also common.
  • Luster: Known for their exceptional luster and unique satiny appearance.
  • Size: The largest of all cultured pearls, usually ranging from 8mm to over 20mm.
  • Colors: Naturally found in shades of white, silver, and gold.


  • South Sea pearls are highly prized and command premium prices due to their large size, unique luster, and the time-intensive cultivation process.
  • The rarity and exquisite quality of these pearls make them a luxurious choice for high-end jewelry.


When choosing pearls, consider what characteristics are most important to you. Freshwater pearls offer affordability and variety, cultured pearls provide a broad range of types and qualities, and South Sea pearls represent the pinnacle of luxury and elegance. Each type of pearl has its own unique beauty, making any choice a treasured addition to your jewelry collection.

By understanding these differences, you can make an informed decision and select the perfect pearls that match your style and preferences.