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Pearl Color


  • Pearl Color

    Pearl Color Defined

    A pearl's color is described as a combination of its body-color and its overtone.

    Body colors are separated into two categories: cool hues and warm hues.
    Cool hues range from reddish purple to yellowish green while warm hues range from purplish red to greenish yellow.

    Overtones (also referred to as "Orient") are the overlying color that appears to float over the surface of the pearl.

    A Pearl's Color is Multifactorial

    Pearls come in a wide variety of colors, ranging from white all the way to black. Here again (as with many of the characteristics of pearls), the fact that the pearl is an organic gemstone, formed within a living creature, contributes to the myriad unique ways in which its coloration can develop.


    The natural color of a pearl results from a combination of several factors. The pearl's body-color is its main color. This can be white, silver, gray, cream, gold, green, blue, or even black. The bodycolor is determined by the type of oyster or mollusk that produces the pearl (certain species of oysters produce pearls of certain colors), the mollusk's age and health, as well as water conditions and even the grafter's technique used for the pearl's creation.
    Akoya Pearl Body Colors, courtesy of


    Overtones are translucent colors, which sometimes appear on top of the pearl's main bodycolor. These overtones tend to alter the bodycolor somewhat, as well as adding depth and glow. A pearl may be white with rosť overtones, for example. Some pearls have no overtones at all.
    Akoya Overtones by

    Pearl Orient

    The term orient refers to the shimmering, iridescent colors, which appear to move and glitter when the pearl is turned. This phenomenon is caused by light interference, due to the way light is reflected and scattered by the millions of thin layers of nacre, which make up the pearl.

    Some Pearls are Artificially Colored

    It is important to note that many pearls are artificially colored. This is widely practiced with freshwater, akoya, and at times Tahitian pearls.

    The colors are artificially infused by a treatment known as dyeing, or by subjecting the pearls to irradiation.

    These treated colors are typically easy to spot by a trained observer who may peer down the drill hole looking for concentrations of color, which indicates the presence of dye, or a darkened pearl nucleus, which indicates radiation treatment.
    Irradiated Black Akoya Pearl. Nucleus can be seen blackened.

    The Truth about Black Pearls

    One rule of thumb in spotting treated pearls is that if the pearls are not true Tahitian pearls, from Black Lip pearl oysters (Pinctada margaritifera & Pinctada mazatlanica) or Rainbow Lipped Oysters (Pteria sterna), they are not natural black pearls.
    Pearl Color Comparisson

    The dark color of black pearls is due to the large concentration of Melanin, a common animal pigment that gives this color to skin, nails, feathers, shell and pearls. The higher the concentration of melanin, the darker the pearls are. White pearls do not have melanin, so they are the equivalent of an Albino.

    Natural black akoya and freshwater pearls do not exist, and if black pearls of this variety are offered for sale, they will always be dyed. Many unwary consumers buy these "black pearls", only to find later that the "natural black color" grading is false.

    New Pearl Colors Discovered for Freshwater Pearls

    In the 1930s, freshwater pearls from Japan's Lake Biwa introduced a wide variety of new colors to the pearl market, colors which were previously unavailable in Akoya saltwater pearls.

    Today, Chinese freshwater pearl farmers have continued this trend with many fancy-colored pearls harvested in large numbers.

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