Learn about the various types, sizes and colors of pearls.


  • What are pearls?
  • The different types of pearls
  • Pearl sizing
  • Pearl colors
  • Pearl quality grades
  • Pearl jewelry care

What are pearls?

Unlike other gemstones such as rubies, sapphires, or diamonds, pearls aren’t created in a lab or mined from the earth. Instead, pearls are formed naturally inside of pearl mollusks - in the case of freshwater pearls (the only type of pearl we use in our jewelry here at Cherish Pearls), they’re formed inside of mollusks known as “pearl mussels”. For other types of pearls such as Akoya pearls, they’re formed inside a different type of mollusk known as “pearl oysters”. But regardless of their variety, all pearls are made of the same glossy organic material known as “nacre”. Which, as the mollusks grow, they secrete layer after layer of nacre, with each layer adding to the size of the pearls until they’re eventually harvested.

The inside of a freshwater pearl mussel

The different types of pearls

Pearls come in different varieties depending on the specific type of mollusk they were grown in as well as which region of the world they originate from.


    Freshwater pearls grow naturally inside of Freshwater Pearl mussels, and occur naturally in lakes and riverbeds across Asia. Although, in modern times most cultivation takes place within man-made lakes to avoid causing environmental damage, and to create higher quality pearls at a lower price. Unlike other types of pearls in which only a single pearl grows in each mollusk, multiple freshwater pearls can grow in a single mussel. This greatly increases the speed of cultivation, and is why freshwater pearls are priced so much lower compared to other pearls of a comparable quality. Freshwater pearls also have the thickest nacre out of all types of pearls, making them the most durable pearls out there, and the best for everyday wear. Thanks to advances in pearl cultivation technology that have taken place in recent decades, the highest quality freshwater pearls like the ones we sell here at Cherish Pearls are now essentially comparable in quality to the best Akoyas, while maintaining a far lower pricetag.


    Akoya pearls are grown inside of the “Pinctada fucata martensii” saltwater oyster, which occurs naturally in the cold coastal waters surrounding Japan, Vietnam, and South China. Akoya pearls are known for their superbly lustrous surfaces, although it comes at a premium price. In some cases a single necklace made from Akoya pearls can easily reach $1,000s. Although they are indeed more lustrous than freshwater pearls, Akoya pearls are much less durable due to their thinner nacre, so they’re not ideal for everyday wear.


    Tahitian pearls are harvested from black-lipped oysters in the temperate coastal waters of French Polynesia. They’re known for being the only naturally occurring “black” pearls, and are sought after for their stunning lustrous black surfaces. Although like Akoya pearls, this comes at a very premium price, and due to their thinner nacre and lower durability they should generally only be reserved for special occasions.


    The most expensive type of pearl, South Sea pearls are gorgeous and highly sought after. Part of the mystique surrounding South Sea pearls is that they come from the infamous “Coral Triangle” - a section of treacherous water that lies between Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Although all South Sea Pearls are relatively pricey, this becomes especially true for the pearls of a larger size - a single South Sea pearl larger than 15mm in size can sell for literally $10,000s.

Pearl Sizing

As naturally occurring gemstones, pearls don’t come in exact sizes. Therefore they’re matched with other pearls of similar sizes to create a balanced look. Whilst the slight natural size variations between pearls simply serves to showcase their one of a kind natural origins.

3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

*Images are only an example and are not an exact size representation

Pearl Colors

Freshwater pearls occur naturally in white, pink, and purple colors. With their color varying based on the specific variety of mussel in which they were grown.

  • White
  • Pink
  • Purple

Pearl Quality Grades

Freshwater pearls come in various quality grades ranging from 'A' to 'AAAA' depending on the roundness of their shape, and the quality of their glossy, lustrous surface. Use the slider below to explore the differences between the various quality grades of pearls that are available.

INFO Low quality freshwater pearls representing the bottom 60% of pearl harvest. (Not sold at Cherish Pearls)
SURFACE Heavy blemishing with only a 50% or less clean surface.
SHAPE Off Round