Are All Tahitian Pearls Black and Other Pearl FAQ Answers

Are all Tahitian pearls black? Whats the difference between a cultured pearl and a natural pearl? Are freshwater pearls inferior to saltwater pearls? Are South Sea pearls really golden?

Good questions. With all the different pearl colors and types out there, it can be difficult to know just what youre looking at. For those interested in buying pearls, or for gem enthusiasts who wish to learn more, here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about pearls.

Are All Tahitian Pearls Black? Not only are Tahitian cultured pearls not exclusively black, theyre also not grown in Tahiti. Called black because of their exotic dark colors, Tahitian cultured pearls can also be gray, blue, green and brown. And theyre grown in the lagoons of small islands that are part of a group known as French Polynesia. Tahiti, the largest island, serves as the groups center of commerce, and not as a pearl growing mecca.

Tahitian pearls are cultivated for about two years in Pinctada margaritifera cumingi, a large mollusk native to French Polynesia. One of the ways this unique oyster differs from other species is its interior shell color, which is dark. This so-called black lipped oyster also has black mantle edgesthe lips that give this animal its descriptive name.

Today, the most sought-after Tahitian cultured pearls are dark green-gray to blue gray with ros or purple overtones. Pearl colors are determined by several factors, including variations in the host oyster, color variation of the implanted donor mussel tissue, the number and thickness of nacre layers, and variations in growing environment such as temperature and water quality. Tahitians are most often variations of gray, black, green and blue, but other colors exist.

At an average size of 8mm-14mm, Tahitian cultured pearlsespecially those specimens that are gem-quality and roundare very expensive. According to the latest information from the Gemological Institute of America, up to 40 percent of implanted black-lipped oysters produce a gem-quality cultured pearl, but only about 5 percent of the pearls they produce are round. And only 1-2 percent of the entire crop will result in round cultured pearls of the finest quality. No wonder a Tahitian pearl strand is so costly! If you want to wear Tahitian cultured pearls, one way to do so without breaking the bank is to choose a pendant-style necklace with a single pearl, pearl stud earrings, a single pearl ring, or baroque (non-symmetrical) pearls. These designs are every bit as exotic and a lot more affordable than a matched strand.

Whats the difference between a cultured pearl and a natural pearl? Natural pearls are formed when an irritant, such as a parasite, makes its way into a pearl-producing animal such as an oyster or mollusk. To protect itself, the animal coats the irritant in nacrea combination of organic substances that also makes up what we call mother-of pearl. Over time, the layers of nacre build up around the intruder and eventually form the organic gem we all know as the pearl.