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Someone recently asked me a question, and I wanted to post it here for anyone who might not know about the different types of pearls. The question was, “What is the difference in FRESHWATER, SALTWATER, OR CULTURED PEARLS?” This is such a great question that highlights a lot of the different (sometimes confusing) info that floats around about pearls!

Here’s a Helpful Flowchart

I decided to create a flowchart for you! This chart should help to explain the different categories visually.


So, let’s start at the top! We have pearls! What I did not include in this chart is the heading for imitation pearls (they would be off to the side somewhere). For this post we’re assuming that your pearls are genuine pearls. So how can you tell if they are real pearls? Try the tooth test!

Now, please understand that we’re referring to REAL pearls, not man-made. Real pearls are divided into two categories: Natural or Cultured pearls.

Natural and Cultured Pearls: What’s the Difference?

A natural pearl forms in nature without any human intervention. The mollusk does the work all by itself! This amazing natural process typically occurs when some kind of irritant, such as a tiny fragment of shell, gets inside a mollusk. The mollusk begins to coat the irritant with nacre, the same shiny iridescent material that makes up the interior of the its shell. After many layers of this nacre over a period of time, the irritant will eventually become a pearl!

In contrast, a cultured pearl develops as a result of human intervention. The definition of cultured, in this case, means that the pearl grows under controlled conditions, by inserting a seed pearl into the mantle of a mollusk. Pearl farmers create an environment to make the pearl grow, even when nature may not have spontaneously produced it. They essentially “plant” the pearl in the mollusk. Another meaning of “cultured” is to have or demonstrate good education, taste, and manners. I dare say we pearl lovers are certainly cultured AND we wear cultured pearls!

freshwater saltwater and the pearl girls cultured pearls

Freshwater and Saltwater Pearls4

So, when we’re talking about cultured pearls there are two types: freshwater and saltwater. The pearl formation process remains the same; the only difference is the environment the pearl grows in. However, freshwater and saltwater pearls may develop different color variations depending on their environment! If you are interested in learning more about the naturally occurring colors in freshwater and saltwater pearls, you can check out my post: “Can Cultured Pearls be Naturally Colored?”

But, to answer the original question about The Pearl Girls pearls, “Are your pearls FRESHWATER, SALTWATER OR CULTURED PEARLS?” The answer is yes! We carry some natural American pearls, but the majority of our pearls are cultured pearls. We do not sell any imitation or fake pearls. Most of our pearls are freshwater pearls, although we do carry Tahitian pearls, Sea of Cortez pearls, and South Sea pearls which are all cultured in saltwater. We rarely carry akoya pearls although we have sold some to our buyers in the past.

Thanks so much for reaching out and keep those questions coming!



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