Header image of Katerina wearing a one-of-a-kind Kara Pendant with baroque freshwater pearl set in 18k rose gold

What to look for when choosing pearls

Finding a pearl for the first time can be overwhelming, but it does not have to be. With their variety of colours, shapes, and new manners of styling, pearls are ever a source of fascination worldwide. Whether you are interested in finding pearls for a gift, or want to know the main types of cultured pearls available, this post is a brief description about their characteristics and what makes them appealing. 

How pearls are formed

Pearls are organic gems that are generated in pearl oysters. When foreign material, such as a sharp object or parasites, enters the oyster and can't be expelled, the mussel shields itself from irritation by secreting nacre around the material. Those layers result in a pearl.

Pearl oyster aquaculture (photo: Mikimoto)
Pearl oyster aquaculture (photo: Mikimoto)

Unlike those that occur in nature, cultured pearls get formed with human intervention and care. This process is usually on a farm that specialises in harvesting gem-quality pearls. In these farms, workers keep the freshwater mussel’s shell open. They cut small slits into the mantle tissue and then insert small pieces of shell into the openings. Doing so activates the oyster to respond to the irritant.

Main types of these natural gems

There are several types of pearls originating from different corners of the world.

Freshwater pearls

This variety is harvested from oysters living in lakes and rivers. Generally, freshwater pearls have a body colour of white, cream, yellow, orange, pink or purple. The market tends to offer specimens ranging from 3.0 mm up to 10.0 mm, and ones that are any larger are considered to be extraordinary. Much of the contemporary world’s supply comes from China.

Freshwater Pearl Mussel, a critically endangered species in nature
Freshwater pearl mussels (Photo: Sue Scott)

Tahitian pearls

As their name suggests, these pearls are named for their cultivation around Tahiti, an island of French Polynesia. Formed inside the black lip oyster, Tahitian pearls are offered in many body colours, varying from green — lime, pistachio, peacock — to a cherry-like red to bronze to grey to purple. Overtones in Tahitian pearls can be pink, green and blue. Sizes range from 8 mm to 18 mm which makes them among the largest pearl varieties.

Some producers chemically dye non-Tahitian pearls to appear black, which weakens the nacre and hence one should take caution of any imitations.

Necklace with Tahitian Pearls
Necklace with Tahitian Pearls (Photo: TVRRINI)

South Sea pearls

These large saltwater gems are harvested in the warm climates around Australia, Indonesia, and the Phillippines. They grow inside white-lipped and gold-lipped oysters, and the thick nacre gives the impression of a soft glow distinct from other types. They are the largest pearls; most South Sea pearls reach about 12 mm with some achieving 20 mm.

Pearls from Australia, in particular, are known for a creamy white body colour with overtones ranging from silver to blue. Pearls from Indonesia and the Phillippines come in shades of honey, champagne and gold.

Display with Kara Pendant featuring semi-round freshwater pearl set in 18k rose gold
Freshwater pearl jewellery (Photo: TVRRINI)

Shapes of pearls

In addition to colours, pearls are created in myriad shapes. Round is the rarest and most valuable of all pearl shapes. Semi-round pearls, when viewed up close, are more unique in their slight irregularities. Drop pearls are symmetrical, elongated shapes and look very much like teardrops. The more irregular baroque pearls are highly asymmetrical and are striking for their uniqueness. One sub-category of baroque pearls is circle baroque pearls, which have concentric ridges or rings around the body.

Finding suitable pearls

Type, colour, lustre, and size are just a few of the factors to consider. We suggest that you first decide whether you prefer large pearls or smaller, more nuanced pearls. When you’re ready, select your favourite metal, be that silver or gold, to complement the pearl. No two pearls are the same. That's why taking your time to review how it looks on you is important. You can ask our team questions whenever you would like further information on a specific piece. 

We are committed to hand-picking freshwater and Tahitian pearls that will be treasured as an elegant statement for yourself or a loved one in years to come. 


Bibi Cheung is a goldsmith and sculptor, and Katerina Spinos is a designer and writer, at the TVRRINI studio.

If you enjoyed this blog article, share it with someone. For more questions about our pearls, you're most welcome to contact us by email (info@tvrrini.com).

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