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Pearl Guide

Pearls are a gift from nature. They are created in the calm, dark depths of the sea, and for centuries, humans have treasured these small, luminous miracles.

The pearl is the source of many legends and fables.

In Persia, pearls were believed to be the tears of the gods, and legend has it that if a woman wore pearls on her wedding day, her life would be free from tears. The Chinese, on the other hand, believed that a drop of morning dew filled with the moon's rays had been trapped inside the pearl’s mussel. Today, we know that pearls are formed from a small irritation in the mussel or oyster – creating great beauty that brings us joy.

Read on and find answers to your questions about pearls in Dulong's Pearl Guide.

Anello Pearl earrings with freshwater pearls and diamonds.

Pearl necklace

Natural pearls

A natural pearl forms when a grain of sand or a small animal finds its way inside the mussel or oyster shell, creating an irritation. As a natural defence mechanism, the mussel or oyster coats the object in layer upon layer of a substance called nacre. Many layers later, this reaction is transformed into a fascinating pearl.

Pearls can form in different types of mussels and oysters, and are found in both fresh and salt water. For centuries, humans sought the "perfect" natural pearl in the deep seas, until they discovered a safer way to cultivate pearls.

Today, natural pearls are extremely rare, and thus are very expensive.

Anello Pearl Bracelet with Tahitian pearls.


How are pearls cultivated?

Before inventing a method for cultivation, pearl divers risked their lives to retrieve precious pearls.

After many attempts, the legendary Kokichi Mikimoto succeeded in developing an effective form of pearl cultivation in Japan in the 1920s. His method was so effective that it is still used to this day. Mikimoto discovered how to add an irritation artificially to create the pearl.

Cultivating pearls is incredibly difficult; mussels and oysters are highly sensitive, and immediately suffer the effects of pollution, storms, disease, lack of oxygen, and temperature changes. Pearl production thus helps to influence the producing countries to maintain a healthy aquatic environment.

Today, there are several different ways to grow pearls. For example, the coveted South Sea pearls are grown by inserting tiny donor pearls into the soft-tissue mantle of the Pinctada Maxima oyster (so-called nucleation).

Bell pendant with freshwater pearl.

Pearl necklace

South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls shimmer almost like satin, with a soft gloss. South Sea pearls are famous for glowing from deep inside, as opposed to freshwater pearls, for example, which have a clearer, outer lustre.

In terms of colour, South Sea pearls range from bluish-white and white to creamy and golden shades with an almost metallic sheen. The price of a South Sea pearl is determined by the pearl’s size, shape, colour, nacre thickness, surface purity, and lustre.

South Sea pearls are grown in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The pearls are cultivated in relatively large oysters called Pinctada maxima, which allows South Sea pearls to become very large and impressive.

An oyster must be cared for and monitored for 18 months before the pearl is ready to be taken out. By that point, the oyster has laid more than a thousand layers of nacre around the spherical core of the pearl.

South Sea pearls are among the most beautiful and expensive pearls in the world.

Glory Balance pendants with baroque south sea pearls and diamonds.

Pearl guide

Tahiti pearls

As the name suggests, this is a saltwater pearl that is grown in the seas around Tahiti. As much as 90 % of the world's black pearls are sourced from Tahiti.

The Tahiti pearl is derived from the black-lipped oyster, Pinctada margaritifera, whose nacre gives the pearls a unique and fascinating dark sheen. The beautiful, dark shades of this pearl range from silvery grey to midnight black. It is also characteristic for Tahiti pearls to have colour variations, such as blue and green. These blue-green varieties are called Peacock, in a reference to the bird's brilliant colouring. The blue, green, red, and brown shades that can occur in the Tahiti pearl are called overtones, because they are secondary colours to the underlying black or grey.

You can find baroque, spherical and teardrop-shaped Tahiti pearls, typically in sizes from 8 to 20 millimetres.

The price of a Tahiti pearl is determined by its size, shape, colour, nacre thickness, surface purity, and lustre. The Tahiti pearl is one of the world’s most beautiful and exclusive pearls.

Anello Pearl earrings with Tahitian pearls and diamonds

Pearl guide

Freshwater pearls

As the name suggests, freshwater pearls are formed in freshwater mussels.

Freshwater pearls vary from white, pink, purple, and peach to beige shades. They are typically smaller than South Sea pearls and Tahiti pearls. In the past, freshwater pearl mussels were found in many regions, including Northern Europe, but pollution and industrialization have all but destroyed these mussel populations. Today, China is the largest supplier of freshwater pearls.

The freshwater mussel produces pearls much faster than Pinctada margaritifera and Pinctada maxima, which create Tahiti pearls and South Sea pearls, respectively.

Freshwater pearls usually do not have a donor pearl, and each freshwater mussel can produce up to 20 pearls. Freshwater pearls are in the water longer than both Tahiti pearls and South Sea pearls, but they require much less care. The price of a freshwater pearl is determined by the pearl’s size, shape, colour, nacre thickness, surface purity, and lustre.

Pacific ring with freshwater pearl.

Pearl guide

What is a cultured pearl?

Cultured pearls are grown in mussels and oysters on pearl farms around the world.

A small core or donor pearl is placed very carefully in the oyster or mussel. The oysters then react by forming layers of nacre around the core. About one layer of nacre is formed per day, and when the pearl has 1,000 or more layers, it is removed from the oyster. During this period, the oysters are attentively cared for and nurtured, as the oyster is a delicate animal.

Cultured pearls are available in many different shapes, and shape can be controlled during cultivation. Popular shapes include teardrops, hearts, ovals, and spheres.

What are Japanese pearls?

Japanese pearls are the original cultivated pearls, and are also called Akoya pearls. They are saltwater pearls and typically spherical. In terms of colour, they range from pink to white to golden.

Japanese pearls are smaller in size than Tahiti pearls, for example, and range from 6 to 10 millimetres in diameter. The price of an Akoya pearl is determined by the pearl’s size, shape, colour, nacre thickness, surface purity, and lustre.

Delphis Pearl earrings with freshwater pearls.

Pearl guide

What are baroque pearls?

Baroque pearls have an organic shape, and in the past they were often discarded in the context of exclusive jewellery. Nowadays, we have opened our eyes to the beautiful, wild, natural shapes of baroque pearls, and they have become highly coveted.

This pearl’s popularity is probably due to its asymmetric, baroque shape – proof that it is a genuine pearl, as it would have looked if shaped by nature itself.

Grand Ocean bracelet with Baroque South Sea pearls.

Pearl ring

How is a pearl’s value determined?

A pearl’s value is derived based on seven factors:

Size: the bigger, the better
Shape: the more symmetric, the better
Colour and overtone: the value based on colour and overtone depends on demand
Lustre / reflection: the more reflection of light, the better
Surface quality: the fewer inclusions, the better
Nacre quality / nacre thickness: the thicker, the better
Match: pearls that match each other increase in value.

Pearl guide

Myths about pearls

Archaeologists have found pearls in remains of 6,000-year-old dwellings. This tells us that the pearl has long been valued by humans. Ancient peoples had no logical explanation for how something so beautiful could emerge from nothing; this gave rise to the myths that have always surrounded the pearl.

One of the most beautiful legends is that pearls are gifts from Aphrodite (or Venus, as she is called in Roman mythology), the goddess of love. The pearls were small pieces of her charm that she gave to humans. She was said to have been born of the sea’s foam, and to have risen from the sea adorned with nothing more than a beautiful pearl necklace.

Because many Western cultures have associated the pure beauty of pearls with innocence, pearl jewellery has been a traditional wedding gift for brides. In Asia, the pearl has been associated with fertility, and has been given as a gift to new mothers.

Common to all its myths, however, is that the pearl has been coveted for thousands of years.

Pearl guide

Pearls in art

Pearls can be seen in many famous paintings because it has played a major role throughout history as a status symbol, steeped in legend.

Here, in Botticelli's famous Venus, you can see how Venus herself is the pearl in the mussel.

Another famous painting illustrating the pearl’s significance as a symbol is Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring. Here, a large, natural Tahiti pearl features centrally in the painting. The famed artist managed to capture the pearl's unique lustre so well that his contemporaries believed the paint was made from ground pearls.

Pearl guide

What’s the best way to care for pearls?

Unlike gemstones, the pearl is not a mineral; it’s an organic product. In other words, pearls are made of a natural material, and they require care to preserve their beauty.

The best way to care for your pearls is by wearing them. Pearls retain their natural moisture, which helps to give them their special lustre when worn.

Because pearls are born in water, they do not tolerate being stored in very dry places. They are also not happy about large temperature fluctuations, which can cause the pearls' natural lustre to deteriorate. For this reason, think twice about where you wear your pearls; for example, if you are going on a skiing holiday, avoid taking pearls directly into high heat after a long, cold day on the slopes.

How to take care of your pearls:

Wear your pearls. Doing so makes them sparkle. Store them in soft material to avoid scratches. Beware of large temperature changes. Be careful with perfume and hairspray. Be careful with soap and alcohol. Clean pearls with lukewarm water and a soft cloth.

With a little loving care, your pearls will stay beautiful forever.

Glory Balance pendant with baroque south sea pearl and diamond. Gold 18 K

Pearl Guide

Pearls from Dulong

At Dulong, we love pearls. Pearls of various kinds are often included in our jewellery and collections. We incorporate pearls either as the piece's focal point or in interaction with gemstones or diamonds.

See MORE PEARLS from Dulong.

Here is an Ocean Pearl bracelet with radiant, baroque Tahiti pearls. Gold 18 K.