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Pearl varieties – natural beauties from the tropics

Origin, colour spectrum and pearl quality
From the bright white of South Sea pearls to the dark green of Tahitian pearls, these undersea treasures dazzle with their beauty and natural variety. Pearls have always been a staple of the fashion world, and our jewellers at Bucherer delight in creating new interpretations of this classic time and again. Learn about the main pearl varieties and find out what criteria are used by our experts to grade their quality.

Pearl varieties – the whims of nature

Shells: where pearls are born

Pearls are born inside the soft tissue of a shell. In some cases, pearls can even form inside rare types of conchs. These creatures are sensitive, and if they are disturbed by another animal, in rare cases a pearl gradually forms inside. After humans discovered this natural phenomenon, they attempted to recreate it by intentionally introducing irritants into shells. This is how cultured pearls were born, around 100 years ago. Since then, different pearl varieties have been cultivated with great success.

Pearl cultivation near the equator

Today, pearl farmers cultivate many different pearl varieties in areas near the equator, keeping the shells in their natural habitat of coastal waters. Since these sensitive creatures react to the slightest changes in their environment, pearl farmers make it their top priority to protect the shells’ natural habitat. This has given rise to small nature reserves in many areas, where pearl cultivation takes place alongside conservation and biodiversity efforts.

A natural rainbow: pearl varieties and their colours

Pearls in countless shades of colour

The specific colour of a pearl is determined by the shell that it originated from. Tahitian pearls, which can be silvery grey to black or even dark grey and green, come from French Polynesia. South Sea pearls are cultivated in Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines. They range from bright white to cream-coloured to intense gold. Freshwater pearls vary in colour from white to pink to an intense purple.

Rare – and impressively sized – South Sea pearls

The rare beauty of South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls are one of the most elegant types of cultured pearls. They are known as the “queen of pearls” because of their size, rarity and impressive beauty. Some South Sea pearls can grow up to 20 mm in diameter, and in rare cases even more. Light-coloured South Sea cultured pearls come from the Pinctada maxima, one of the largest known kinds of oysters.

Pearls with silky shine

This tropical shell, which can grow up to 25 cm in diameter and 5 kg in weight, is the birthplace of valuable cultured pearls. These rare beauties have a soft, velvety appearance with a particularly smooth shine. Pearls grown inside a Pinctada maxima oyster range in colour from silvery white to cream and gold. They are cultivated on the coast of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Pearls from the South Sea: sumptuous golden pearls

Golden pearls

Pearl farmers always try to create pearls in new colours, which can be achieved by raising cross-bred or pure-bred oysters. This is how golden pearls from the South Sea arose in the late 1970s. These pearls from the Philippines, with colouration ranging from intense gold to pale orange, have become increasingly popular over the last decade. Alongside white South Sea pearls and black beauties from Tahiti, golden pearls are now considered an integral part of any jeweller’s pearl selection.

The Vanilla Overtone pearl variety by Bucherer

Bucherer is pleased to offer Vanilla Overtone golden pearls in its range of jewellery. This pearl variety is the result of many years of working to isolate a subspecies of the gold-lipped Pinctada maxima from other species. These pearls are a slightly paler shade of gold, making them ideal for European skin tones, which tend to be less sun-kissed. Only very few farmers in southern Indonesia have succeeded in cultivating pearls in this rare hue.

Pearls from Tahiti and Fiji

Pearls from Tahiti and Fiji

Dark-coloured South Sea pearls are also known as Tahitian cultured pearls. They are cultivated exclusively in the turquoise lagoons and atolls surrounding French Polynesia. A rare pearl variety, they range in diameter from around 8 to 16 mm. They are created by the black-lipped Pinctada margaritifera oyster. Tahitian pearls are enchanting natural masterpieces characterised by their size and mysterious shades of colour. This iridescent play of colour ranges from light silvery grey to dark green, from elegant anthracite to jet black.

Fiji pearls are also born in the same black-lipped oysters, which thrive in the pristine waters around the island of Vanua Levu in northern Fiji. They are cultivated there in very small numbers. Cultured pearls from Fiji have an iridescent shine that shimmers in every tone you can imagine, from pastel pistachio green to deep ocean blue – a reflection of the luscious vegetation of their birthplace in this South Sea paradise.

The most classic of all pearls: the highly coveted Japanese Akoya pearl

Akoya pearls – unparalleled shine

They are formed inside the Pinctada martensii oyster, also known as akoyagai in Japanese. In fact it was the akoyagai that gave rise to the first cultured pearls ever, just over 100 years ago. Outshining their cultured-pearl counterparts, Akoya pearls are characterised by their fascinating lustre – the most important quality criterion experts use when grading pearls. This explains why they have been so highly coveted ever since they first appeared on the world markets in 1921.

Akoya pearls at Bucherer

Akoya pearls are considered to be the most classic and feminine kind of pearl. Today, they are available in sizes ranging from around 6 to 10 mm in diameter. Necklaces with high-quality pearls from 9.5 to 10 mm in diameter are rare. The best cultured Akoya pearls – which also live up to Bucherer’s exacting standards – still come from Japan.

Freshwater Cumingii pearls from China

Freshwater Cumingii pearls – dazzling variety

Freshwater pearls like the Cumingii variety are mostly seedless – unlike Akoya and South Sea saltwater pearls, which always have a firm mother-of-pearl core. Cumingii pearls are cultivated inside a shell called the Hyriopsis cumingii or from a cross-breed with the Hyriopsis schlegeli shell. This type of shell is considerably larger than the Akoya oyster, and is capable of forming several pearls simultaneously. Cumingii pearl farms are found almost exclusively in southern China.

Cumingii cultured pearls are known primarily for their myriad of shapes and colours. This beautiful diversity, along with their attractive price, have helped to give pearls in general a new young and feminine image.

Pearl quality criteria

Size, surface quality, lustre (shine), shape and colour: the interplay of these five factors determines the quality and therefore the value of a pearl. Only the finest cultured pearls fulfil Bucherer’s exacting quality standards. With their know-how, experience and instinct for the exceptional, our experts grade pearls according to these five criteria.

In 2000, Bucherer became the first jeweller in the world to introduce a pearl certificate. With this certificate, we aim to facilitate it for our customers to choose the right pearls and guarantee them the highest quality. The certificate contains an expert’s detailed grade and explanation for each quality criterion.

Size

The quality of a pearl depends on many factors, including size. Depending on their variety, pearls can be anywhere between 3 and 18 mm in diameter – and in very rare cases may be even larger. The value and rarity of a pearl increase with its size.

Lustre

Shine, also known as lustre, is the most important factor for determining the value of a pearl. The lustre depends on the pearl’s nacre, or its coating and surface quality. The deeper the pearl’s lustre, the stronger its iridescent shimmer is.

Finest quality

  • Highest level of clarity, optimal light refraction, clear reflection

Very fine quality, excellent

  • Very good light refraction, good reflection

Fine quality, good

  • Good light refraction and reflection

Commercial quality, matt

  • Possibly a thin coating with milky (weak) refraction and reflection

Pearls come in many shapes.

Shape

Pearls come in a myriad of shapes: round, almost round, teardrop-, pear- or button-shaped, baroque or ridged. The most precious and coveted pearls are those that are perfectly round. Nevertheless, well-balanced baroque (irregular) shapes are becoming increasingly popular.

Surface quality

The purity of a pearl’s surface also plays a role in determining its quality, which is assessed based on characteristics that arise naturally during its formation. A pearl’s surface itself should be as smooth and uniform as possible. The more flawless the pearl, the higher the value.

However, since pearls are natural products, their surface may not always be smooth and perfect. The coating of a pearl can range from completely smooth to coarse and grainy.

Spot level 1: bumps
  • No inclusions, or at least 80% of the surface is pure, i.e. there are no imperfections or inclusions. Just very small spots on the remaining 20% of the surface.

Spot level 2: chips

  • At least 60% of the surface is pure, i.e. there are no imperfections or inclusions. Just very small spots on the remaining 40% of the surface.

Spot level 3: scratches

  • The surface has a few imperfections, i.e. slight, shallow spots are distributed across the surface.

Spot level 4: wrinkles

  • The surface has many clearly visible inclusions, i.e. relatively deep and visible spots are distributed across the entire surface.

Pearl quality: an interplay of colours and light reflections

Colour

Regarding a pearl’s colour, a basic distinction is made between actual body colour and the overtone – the colour of the light reflection on the surface. These two tones may be exactly the same or completely different. For example, pearls with a greyish green body colour and an intense iridescent overtone in a different colour are known as peacock pearls. Other pearls also have this kind of reflective overtone, but the dual colour effect is the most readily visible on peacock pearls from French Polynesia.

Countless combinations of colours and light reflections

Every pearl has a unique combination of body colour and overtone. Because colour is a descriptive feature, the variety is virtually unlimited. The price of a pearl therefore depends on how popular and rare its particular colour combination is. The choice of the right colour depends on the wearer’s skin tone and personal taste.

Learn more about these underwater treasures in the Bucherer pearl brochure (PDF).