Posted in  Beginners guide  on  November 15, 2022 by  Anisa0 comments

When you’re shopping for pearl jewelry, you’ll hear a lot of different terms in the descriptions of these items. The main terms you’ll hear are “natural” pearls and “cultured” pearls, but if both of these pearls are real, what’s the difference between them?

And why is there such a big difference in the costs of the two items? While it may feel a little confusing, it’s really much easier to understand than you think, so if you want to learn all about natural pearls, you’ve come to the right place.

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Natural vs. Cultured Pearls

Essentially, there are two types of pearls—natural and cultured. Both are real pearls, but natural pearls develop naturally inside the shells of mollusks such as oysters, while cultured pearls are more controlled and are created on “farms.”

Let’s take a look at natural pearls first. Pearls begin in the ocean when a foreign object, an irritant, seeps into the shell of a mollusk. The shells of mollusks are lined with nacre, and the mollusks coat the foreign object with that nacre over and over again for several years.

The irritant can be a grain of sand, a small piece of bone, or even a parasite. Whatever it is, the mollusk continues to heap layer upon layer on that irritant as a way to defend and protect itself. After about three to five years, on average, a pearl is formed.

The thing is, today only about one in every 10,000 mollusks ever produces a pearl, so they are extremely rare. And this rarity is reflected in the price, because natural pearls are incredibly expensive.

Cultured pearls, by contrast, are created in a controlled environment on farms. The people in charge intentionally introduce a foreign object into a mollusk, then wait for the pearl to develop.

They can use numerous types of mollusks and can grow pearls in both saltwater and freshwater environments. This means that while natural pearls are rare and very expensive, cultured pearls are plentiful and very reasonably priced.

What You Should Know About Natural Pearls

One thing to look out for when you’re shopping for natural pearl jewelry is the terminology used in the ad. For instance, some companies claim the pearls used in their jewelry are “natural” when it’s really just a natural color, as opposed to pearls that have been artificially dyed to look like a certain color.

If you want a piece of jewelry made out of natural pearls, make sure you read through the description with a fine-toothed comb to make sure they are naturally occurring pearls and not just pearls with a natural color.

Natural Pearls

Real natural pearls are made entirely of nacre, which is what lines the inside of the mollusk shell. Nacre is a combination of naturally occurring aragonite and conchiolin, which is a naturally occurring binder. Today, roughly 99% of the pearls you find in jewelry stores are cultured pearls.

This is partly because even though one in 10,000 mollusks will produce a pearl, some of those pearls are too small to use when making jewelry. Not all of the pearls produced naturally are usable, in other words.

Are There Any Natural Pearl Beds Left?

Now that you are starting to understand how rare natural pearls are, you should also know that natural pearling today is essentially confined to the Persian Gulf in the seas off Bahrain. In fact, these waters have produced pearls for more than 2,000 years.

Undersea beds of pearl-producing oysters are extremely rare and can only be found around Australia, which includes one of the world’s last remaining pearl-diving ships, and in Mexico, which recently began reviving some of its natural oyster beds.

But if you’re concerned about the production of natural pearls not being eco-friendly, not to worry because this is still a sustainable process that doesn’t require any damage to the environment.

This is different from other gems, including diamonds and emeralds, which have to be mined and usually cause negative consequences for Mother Earth.

In addition, keep in mind that most of the natural pearls have already been harvested, which makes cultured pearls even more attractive to pearl lovers.

Is it possible that one day, all of the oysters with pearls in them will be depleted? Perhaps, but it is more likely that natural pearls will continue to grow more and more rare, which means their prices will continue to rise.

Even today, a lot of jewelry and other items made out of natural pearls are too expensive for the average person to afford. While cultured pearls are not necessarily inexpensive, they are much more affordable than their natural counterparts.

Are Natural Pearls and Mother of Pearl the Same Thing?

While natural pearls are made entirely out of nacre, their rarity makes them extremely expensive. By contrast, the nacre on the inside of the mollusk shell is where most companies get their mother of pearl.

Because that nacre is found in the shells of most mollusks, it is not a rare item, and therefore, mother of pearl is extremely affordable.

You’ll find everything from jewelry to clothing and even furniture and various household items with mother of pearl in them.

Also, do not confuse cultured pearls with simulated or fake pearls. They are definitely not the same thing. Cultured pearls are real pearls, whereas simulated or fake pearls are created in a manufacturing facility and are usually made out of some type of plastic that is coated with a type of material to make it last.

That being said, simulated or fake pearls are very affordable, albeit not very long-lasting.


Natural pearls are naturally occurring items formed in the ocean in mollusks such as oysters and others. Cultured pearls come from real mollusks but are intentionally fed “irritants” so that the pearls are produced more quickly.

Natural pearls are extremely rare and, therefore, very expensive, making them out of reach financially for a lot of people. On the other hand, cultured pearls are not rare at all because they are made in a controlled environment and are, therefore, very affordable.

About the Author


I am a pearl and oyster enthusiast who loves to share her knowledge and experiences about fashion with the world. I am neither a certified gemologist nor a reseller of pearls.

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