Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pearls - Freshwater and Saltwater - What's the difference?

There are 5 different shades of fresh water pearl in this pendant - can you spot them all?

And 5 in this one too!

I recently had an interesting conversation with a Korean stallholder friend who wanted to know the difference between fresh water and salt water pearls.  In her country, round perfect pearls are much sought after and she had not heard of the fresh water variety which are a more 'free form' or irregular shape.

Personally, I love fresh water pearls and use them a lot in my embellished paua bracelets and pendants (my Sea Garden Collection).  I marvel at the many colours you can get and their often unusual 'organic' shape and spend much time sorting through my collection to find the right 'match' for the piece I am creating.

But who can go past a gorgeous string of perfectly round, lustrous salt water pearls?!

Both Fresh water and Salt water pearls have their own unique place I say!

These are the differences between the two...
  • Price - Salt water pearls are more expensive than Fresh water largely due to their 'perfect' shape and smooth texture.
  • Creation - Both types of pearl are made in shellfish - where an irritant like a grain of sand is placed inside the shellfish and it secretes a smooth substance over the irritant to protect itself.  This substance is nacre or mother of pearl and the layers build up to form a pearl. 

    Fresh water pearls are produced in Mussels, Salt water pearls are produced in Oysters. Both types of shellfish used to create pearls are 'farmed', ie, produced and cared for in designated areas specifically for the purpose of making/harvesting pearls.
  • Shape - Salt water pearls are generally a perfect round, fresh water pearls have a more bumpy potato-like shape and are referred to as off-round, egg, or Baroque.
  • Colour - Fresh water pearls are often dyed to give vibrant colours and shades, in their natural state they can range from white, cream, pink, lavender and copper taking on the colours of the mussel shell.  Salt water pearls too come in a variety of colours most commonly white, cream, grey, silver.

A pearl being extracted from an Akoya Pearl Oyster - Photo courtesy Pomakis,
A Fresh Water Pearl Mussel Shell - Photo courtesy of Tom Meijer,
Salt Water Pearl Farm, Seram, Indonesia - Photo courtesy Mark Richards,,_Indonesia).jpg
Undyed Fresh Water Pearls

Salt Water Pearls

So as you can see - both salt water and fresh water pearls are equally as 'real' in their composition, and it comes down to the personal preference of the buyer as to whether you like colourful, irregularly shaped and affordable freshwater pearls or the more traditional, classic round shape and colour of the salt water pearl.

What is your preference - salt or fresh?


  1. Wow thanks for researching this Mel. I don't use pearls very often and wandered what the difference was.

    1. I must admit Bobbie - I had to think really hard when trying to explain the differences to the stallholder - it's been a while since I first learnt about them! It was great to research and refresh my memory :D

  2. Well I learnt a lot there! Thanks Mel, really interesting! I love the irregular shape and shading of the freshwater pearls, but wouldn't say no to a gorgeous string of the salt water pearls either! ;)

  3. like the pearls....look so beautiful.i appreciate you share it.
    Pearl Jewelry
    Pearl Necklaces
    Freshwater Pearls


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