Pearls have been popularly used in jewelry for a long time. You likely own pearls or have family members who own pearls. It’s even common for people to have pearl necklaces or earrings passed down as family heirlooms. Despite potentially having a family history with pearls, you might not know where they originate.

Where are pearls found in the world? Are there some locations that have an abundance of pearls? Continue reading to learn more about pearls. This should give you a greater appreciation of them.

Table of Contents

Natural Pearl Locations

You might be surprised to hear that natural pearls can be found in many locations. There are many bodies of water where you can find natural pearls. Of course, there are restrictions on collecting pearls, and this means that pearls are often harvested in various hotspots. For instance, many of the pearls that are sold today come from China.

In the 1980s, China became the largest supplier of freshwater pearls. The country has continued to focus on supplying pearls to the rest of the world. This industry brings China a lot of money.

Phillipines stamp on pearl farming
Phillipines stamp on pearl farming

Most of the freshwater pearls on the market come from China. Saltwater pearls are a different story, though. The most common areas where saltwater pearls are harvested include Japan, Australia, and French Polynesia.

So you’ll find many pearls in the waters of Asia, but they can be found elsewhere. Since the market for pearls can be so lucrative, many countries want to take advantage.

Bahrain was once considered to be a leader in the pearl trade. Today, this island kingdom hopes to revive its pearl trade. Since pearls can come from so many different places, it’s hard to say which countries will be the largest suppliers of pearls in the decades to come.

China and Japan are likely to remain important sources of natural pearls for a long time, but so many other countries have access to waters that contain pearls as well.

Cultured Pearl Locations

Not all pearls come from natural sources. Natural pearls are harvested directly from natural bodies of water. Divers find pearls inside mollusks, such as marine oysters and freshwater mussels. Cultured pearls still come from these mollusks, but they’re farmed in particular locations.

Large-scale farming operations involve plucking oysters from the wild and then cultivating them on farms. Australia is known as one of the biggest providers of cultured pearls.

They provide the world with a large portion of the white pearls from the South Sea that you’re likely familiar with. There are both saltwater cultured pearls and freshwater cultured pearls.

China is the biggest provider of freshwater cultured pearls. These pearls are less expensive than saltwater pearls. China has thousands of pearl farms that work to provide the world with an abundance of pearls.

It seems likely that they will remain a leader in this field for a long time due to how ingrained China is in the industry.

Saltwater pearl farms are abundant in places such as Japan, Australia, and French Polynesia. This mirrors the places where you can find natural saltwater pearls.

It’s simply common for pearl farmers to farm the pearls in this fashion since it’s more convenient than only gathering them naturally. This industry is important to the economies of various countries.

China

China is the biggest provider of freshwater pearls. Akoya pearls that are smaller than 7 mm often come from China. They also produce various tissue-cultured freshwater pearls.

Japan

Japan is one of the most important providers of saltwater pearls. This country has a long history with the pearl trade. Many types of pearls come from Japanese waters. You can find Akoya, Keshi, Mikimoto, Biwa, Abalone, and Kasumiga pearls in Japan.

Australia

Australia has become a big part of the pearl trade as well. They’re a big part of the cultured pearl industry. The country is predominantly known for producing white cultured pearls.

French Polynesia

French Polynesia is another important location for pearls that you should know. Black pearls (also known as Tahitian pearls) come from French Polynesia.

Tahitian Pearls

What’s the Difference Between Natural and Cultured Pearls?

Some people might be confused by the differences between natural and cultured pearls. If the pearls are all coming from mollusks such as oysters and mussels, why is there a distinction? Simply put, the difference involves human intervention. Humans intervene to make pearl farming possible whereas natural pearls are formed by chance.

To understand this, it’s important to look at how pearls are formed. Pearls are formed by mollusks when they’re exposed to some type of irritant. A foreign substance gets inside the shell and this causes the mollusk to trap the substance by producing nacre. The foreign substance acts as the nucleus for a pearl, and the nacre surrounds the substance over time.

It takes a long time for pearls to form naturally in the wild. Some types of pearls might take decades to form. The process is time-consuming and there’s no guarantee that things will go as planned. Even under ideal conditions, it’s hard to say whether the pearls will form properly. So finding a large and beautiful natural pearl is remarkable.

Cultured pearls are made in the same way, but the conditions to make the pearl are initiated by humans. Humans harvest oysters and mussels from bodies of water and then place them on farms. These mollusks are kept in ideal conditions where pearls can form. People will even purposefully introduce foreign substances to the mollusks to initiate the pearl-forming process.

Natural pearls are much rarer because cultured pearls are easy to obtain. Getting pearls to form naturally will be a lot tougher because many things need to line up the right way for the pearl to even have a chance.

There are no guarantees with natural pearls, whereas cultured pearls can be produced reliably. Natural pearls are more expensive due to their rarity, but there isn’t necessarily a difference in quality.

In Closing

There are many different types of pearls out there and they can all be found in various bodies of water around the world. Some of the places that are known to have the most pearls include China, Japan, Australia, and French Polynesia.

These aren’t the only places where pearls can be found, but they are some of the most important locations in the pearl industry. All of these locations play big roles when talking about both natural and cultured pearls.

Of course, you can find pearls in other bodies of water throughout the world. However, it’s worth noting that there are legal restrictions in most places when it comes to collecting pearls.

If you go to a jewelry store and look at the pearls that can be found there, it’s likely that the pearls came from one of the countries/locations mentioned above. The abundance of pearl farms in those locations makes them the leaders in the industry.

About the Author

Anisa

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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