Difference between Freshwater and Cultured Pearls

August 30, 2016 by Editorial Team

If you ever tried to purchase pearl jewelry, you surely noticed how high priced everything is. Did you ever wonder why that is? Do you know that there are various types of pearls and that their origin dictates the price? This article will point out the main differences between freshwater pearls and cultured pearls.


Freshwater Pearls vs Cultured Pearls

Freshwater pearls are formed inside mollusks known as bivalves. These creatures can open at will in the hopes of food landing in. During this time, irritants may enter and scratch the inside surface of the clam. This irritant can be a speck of dirt, sand, a tiny parasite or any other small organism floating in the water. Since the mollusk cannot eject the irritant, it surrounds it with a substance called nacre. This is also the material coating the inside of the mollusk’s shell. Then, for a long period of time, it lays layer upon layer of nacre on the irritant, forming the pearl.

No two mollusks are the same. This means that the secreted substance differs in luster, color and ability to produce nacre and cover the irritant. Freshwater pearls are usually produced inside mussels. However, this is not something that happens very often. Pearls are rare, hence the high price.

Cultured pearls are pearls grown inside of mollusks from the intervention of man. The pearl is created by taking advantage of the mollusk’s natural defense mechanism; an irritant is deliberately placed inside the shell in order for the mollusk to start covering it with layers of nacre. To make the process even more efficient, beads are used so that the resulting pearl has the right shape.

Freshwater Pearls vs Cultured Pearls

So what is the difference between freshwater pearls and cultured pearls?

The main difference between freshwater pearls and cultured pearls lies with the intentional placing of an irritant inside the shell of the mollusk. In nature, an irritant floats into a mollusk by accident, thus leading to the creation of very few pearls. When it comes to cultured pearls, since there is an industry in need of a resource, the process is forced by placing the irritant and kick starting the nacre layering process.

Even so, both freshwater pearls as well as culture pearls take time to be created. This process can last for up to seven years and still depends on the type of nacre the mollusk has.

Freshwater pearls can have different forms according to the shape of the irritant and the way in which the layers are naturally placed. This means that the same mollusk can produce pearls that look different. Cultured pearls, on the other hand, are beads with layers of nacre, which gives them a rounder shape from the start.

As expected, freshwater pearls are more expensive than cultured pearls.

Comparison Chart

Freshwater PearlsCultured Pearls
Grow naturally inside a mollusk when an irritant lies on the inner surface of the clam and is then covered by layers of nacreAre made to grow inside a mollusk when an irritant is intentionally placed on the inner surface of the clam and then covered by layers of nacre
Take time to formTake time to form
Can have irregular formsUsually are round because beads are used to make sure that they all look the same
Are more expensive because they are very rareAre less expensive than freshwater pearls, but still very expensive because they take time to grow