Many should be familiar with the term, South Sea Pearl. Many also tend to associate South Sea Pearl as a natural pearl. However, that is incorrect. Not all South Sea Pearls are natural pearls and not all natural pearls are South Sea Pearls.
Before we explain further, let’s start with the 4 basic types of pearls - Akoya, Freshwater, South Sea and Tahitian. The type of pearl is based on which oyster or mussel it came from. It does not depend on whether the pearl is natural or cultured. Hence, a natural pearl can be an Akoya, Freshwater, South Sea or Tahitian pearl, and so can a cultured pearl.
The Akoya pearl is a saltwater pearl cultivated from a small oyster called the Pinctada Fucata off the shores of China and Japan. These pearls are popular for their lustre, and are used in symmetrical pearl strands as they are usually almost identical in shape, size, quality and colour. Typically, an oyster produces one Akoya pearl and takes between 10 to 14 months before reaching a size of up to 9mm in diameter.
South Sea Pearls
Considered the most valuable of all pearls, the South Sea pearl is cultivated from large, white-lipped oysters and hand-picked from the waters of the South Pacific. South Sea Pearls are treasured for having the thickest nacre of all, making them of good quality. Apart from the thick nacre, another reason for its high value is due to the time taken to grow a South Sea Pearl. Typically, it takes between 2 and 3 years for the South Sea Pearl to reach a diameter of up to 15mm.
The Tahitian pearl, a saltwater pearl, is derived from the islands of French Polynesia, around Tahiti. Cultivated from the black-lipped oysters, these exotic black pearls also have an amazing colour range from light creams, to grey, regal green and even a beautiful iridescent peacock. The colour of the pearl depends on which part of the oyster the pearl was formed on. If it was formed on the dark edges of the oyster, a dark coloured pearl would be formed. Likewise, if it was formed on the lighter part of the oyster, a light coloured pearl would be formed. Typically, a Tahitian pearl takes between 18 to 24 months to reach a size of 10mm.
Freshwater pearls grow in mussels in freshwater lakes and man-made aquaculture bodies that contain marine life to support pearl cultivators in China. Each mussel can produce a number of freshwater pearls each time in a relatively short period of time, which makes them the most affordable as compared to the other types of pearls. Freshwater pearls can grow up to 14mm, and can come in a variety of shapes, such as round or baroque, and colours.