Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls

Pearl is one of the rarest gems treasured across cultures for centuries. It is adored for its distinct luster, beauty, and elegance. However, while searching for the right pearls, labels can be baffling, especially regarding natural and cultured pearls. So, which are better natural pearls vs cultured pearls?

Here is a crisp guide to understanding the difference between the two and picking the perfect pearl for your loved one. 

What is a Cultured Pearl?

A cultured pearl is a pearl that is produced through a systematic pearl farming and harvest process. Here, the farmers cultivate oysters or mollusks on special pearl farms. These are more affordable pearls and are found in different shapes, sizes, and colors. 

Saltwater Pearls

On the other hand, saltwater pearls are formed by a saltwater mollusk in a salty environment. Tahitian pearls, Akoya pearls, and South Sea pearls are the most popular forms of saltwater pearls. These pearls are rounder in shape in comparison to freshwater cultured pearls.

Freshwater Pearls 

These pearls come from freshwater mussels. Freshwater pearls have a thick nacre layer, offering them a unique shine and luster. Moreover, farmers can harvest around 30 pearls from one mussel. These mussels can be reused for harvesting as long as the water is healthy and clean. The best part is that freshwater pearls are more durable and affordable. This quality makes it a popular choice for jewelry designers and consumers. 

Who Invented Cultured Pearls?

Kokichi Mikimoto, in 1893, invented the first cultured pearl. He manually added an irritant into an oyster and stimulated it to produce a pearl. This revolutionary invention became a catalyst in the jewelry industry. 

Cultivated pearls have the same properties as natural pearls. The only difference is that cultivated pearls have a helping hand.

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Cultured Pearls vs Natural Pearls: How to Differentiate 

Here are some major differences between natural pearls and cultured pearls. 

Differences in the Pearl Formation Process/Creation 

Natural pearls are formed without any human intervention. In this process, a tiny water irritant randomly gets trapped in the mollusk living in the wild. The mollusk starts covering the irritant with thousands of nacre or nucleus layers as a defense mechanism. The higher the number of layers, the better the pearl’s luster. 

On the other hand, cultivated pearls are formed with human intervention. Here mollusks live in a planned environment, and irritants are added manually. After this, the pearl formation process remains the same as the natural pearls. 

Differences in the Harvesting Process

Natural pearls are found by deep diving into the ocean. The divers sometimes risk their lives while searching for natural pearls. Over time, the population of oysters started depleting in many oceans. Apart from this, many pearls get damaged while opening the oyster shells. 

Cultured pearls, on the other hand, are harvested in clean waters. The shells are carefully taken out of the water through a special machine. Moreover, the shells are also opened carefully to ensure zero damage to the mollusks and the pearls. 

Differences in Types 

Akoya pearls, South Sea pearls, Tahitian pearls, and freshwater pearls are the different types of cultured pearls. Whereas Biwa pearls, Baroque pearls, and Keshi pearls are forms of natural pearls. 

Also see: Types of Pearls: Akoya, Tahitian, Freshwater & South Sea

Differences in Colors 

Besides white, both cultivated and natural pearls come in different colors, depending on their type. For instance, Tahitian pearls feature dark purple, blue, and black shades. So, which one is better for investment – cultured vs natural pearls? An industry expert would be the right person to guide you.

Also see: Everything you need to Know about Pearl Color

Differences in Shapes

The shine of natural pearls is usually deeper than that of cultured ones. Moreover, they are usually baroque, meaning they have non-spherical and irregular shapes. Whereas cultured pearls are usually round in shape.

Also see: An Ultimate Guide to Pearl Shapes

Differences in Price and Supply

Since cultured pearls are produced in a controlled environment, the durability of the oysters is higher here. It allows the harvesters to produce authentic and quality pearls at higher rates. 

According to the American Gem Society report, most of the natural pearls have already been taken by pearl divers. So, although the quality is quite similar, the prices of natural pearls are higher because of their rarity. Moreover, the cultured pearls supply is higher than natural pearls. 

Differences in Quality

Cultured pearls are made with human intervention and are more readily available in the market today. At the same time, natural pearls are rarer and much more valuable than cultured pearls.

Differences in Cleaning

Cultured and natural pearls should be cleaned with lukewarm water and chemical-free dish soap. Moreover, avoid submerging the pearl in water, as it can weaken its silk thread. 

Are Cultured Pearls Considered to be Real Pearls?

Yes, cultured pearls are nothing less than real pearls. However, cultured pearls are more affordable and easily available. On the other hand, natural pearls are rare and hence command a higher position in the market. Moreover, you should not confuse cultured pearls with fake pearls. Imitation pearls are made from ceramics, shells, plastic, or glass. 

Which Countries Produce the Best Cultured Pearls? 

Japan is the number one producer of Akoya pearls. The country offers the best and most beautiful Akoya pearls in the world. Apart from this, China is the largest producer of cultured freshwater pearls. That’s not all. South Korea is also a prominent producer of high-quality pearls. 

Natural and Cultivated Pearl Jewelry 

Pearls are one of the most sought-after jewelry gems in the past decades. Consumers worldwide love to flaunt this gem through pearl necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings. 

There are many reasons to wear pearl jewelry. For one, pearls are classic and elegant. They never go out of style and can be worn for any occasion – from a casual day out to a black tie event. So, check out our Natural and Cultivated Pearl Jewelry and pick the one you like the most!







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Navkiran lives in Punjab state of India with her husband and an exceptionally perfect furry companion named RAIN. When she is not writing, you can find her busy cooking, decorating & organizing her home, or watching TV series.

Navkiran Dhaliwal is a pro blogger and copywriter with 10+ years of experience working with clients from all over the world. She has written for several renowned online magazines and newspapers.

Navkiran lives in Punjab state of India with her husband and an exceptionally perfect furry companion named RAIN. When she is not writing, you can find her busy cooking, decorating & organizing her home, or watching TV series.

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