When discussing pearls there are two categories to keep in mind; natural and cultured. Naturally occurring pearls are valued much higher than cultured pearls. The difference between natural and cultured pearls focuses on whether the pearl was created spontaneously by nature, in other words, without human intervention. Pearls are formed inside the shell of certain mollusks as a defense mechanism to a potentially threatening irritant such as a parasite inside its shell; the mollusk creates a pearl to seal off the irritation. The combination of aragonite and conchiolin is called nacre, which makes up mother-of-pearl.

Natural pearls of interest:
Conch pearls
Conch pearls are produced by the Queen Conch mollusk (Strombus gigas), which lives primarily in the Caribbean near southern Florida. It is very difficult to find matching Conch pearls therefore the cost associated with matched jewelry of this type are very high.

Melo Melo pearls
Melo Melo pearls come from melo melo marine snails found in the South China Sea. Both Conch and Melo Melo pearls tend to fade especial when exposed to direct sunlight.

Abalone pearls
Abalone pearls are most often an iridescent blue color and the most common shape is the horn. Besides the blue hue Abalone pearls come in lavender, orange, green, pink and silver. These are some of the most beautiful pearls in the world. Very popular in New Zealand and Australia they are making there way to Europe and the US.

Today, nearly all pearls are cultured. By inserting a foreign object into a mollusk, pearl farmers can induce the creation of a pearl. From there, the same process of natural pearl creation takes place. Cultured pearls can be distinguished from natural pearls through the use of x-rays, which reveal the inner part of the pearl.

Cultured pearls of interest:

Saltwater Pearls
Akoya Pearls
The akoya oyster is the smallest pearl-producing oyster used in pearl culture today, so akoya pearls also tend to be small, ranging in size from about 2 to 11 millimeters. They also tend to be the most consistently round and near-round pearls, making them ideal in terms of matching for multi-pearl jewelry such as strands and bracelets.

Tahitian pearls
These are primarily black pearls thought by many to be solely a product of Tahiti, this is in fact not true. Tahiti is the commercial center and trading hub for the bulk of the industry not the actual site of the pearl farms.

South Sea pearls
South Sea pearls are among the largest commercially harvested cultured pearls in the world. The average size of a South Sea pearl is 13 mm, with most harvests producing a range of sizes from 9 mm to 20 mm. The South Seas lie between the northern coast of Australia and the southern coast of China.

Freshwater Pearls
Generally speaking, freshwater pearls are not as round as saltwater pearls, and they do not have the same luster and shine as saltwater pearls. However, they appear in a wide variety of shapes and natural colors, and they tend to be less expensive than saltwater pearls, making them very popular. Also, because freshwater pearls are solid nacre, they are also quite durable, resisting chipping, wear, and degeneration.

Special care and cleaning of your pearl jewelry is required due to the fact pearls are an organic gemstone; they are somewhat different from other gemstones and precious metals. They are softer and more delicate, and they can therefore be more easily scratched, cracked, and damaged. Items like perfume and hair spray -- and even natural body oils and perspiration can dull pearls' luster or cloud their brilliance so you should never apply these items while wearing your pearls. Be sure to wipe them down with a clean cloth after wearing them and store them in a cool dry place.

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You Should Also Read:
Pearls, Natural Beauties of the Gem World
Pearl Value Factors - Judging and Evaluating Pearls

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