Freshwater Pearls vs Cultured Pearls

Am I Getting Freshwater or Cultured Pearls?

A common question faced by many pearl buyers today is whether a particular strand of pearls is composed of freshwater or cultured pearls. This question cannot have a definitive answer because freshwater pearls are in fact cultured pearls.

Freshwater Pearls Are Cultured Pearls, But They Are Not Akoya

The reason so many buyers distinguish cultured pearls from freshwater pearls, is because "cultured pearls" is a trade term still used by many today to describe akoya pearls. Although akoya pearls are cultured pearls, the process of nucleating them is the saltwater process and much different than freshwater cultured pearls.
Fine akoya pearl strand

A fine strand of cultured akoya pearls courtesy of

Know the Origin of Your Cultured Pearls to Know Their Value

This is important to understand when shopping for pearls because a seller of freshwater pearls can describe their product as cultured pearls. It is always important to identify the origin of the cultured pearls to make an informed purchase decision, because a strand of freshwater pearls will never be as valuable as a strand of equivalent quality akoya pearls.

All Pearls Grown Today Are Cultured Pearls, But Not Necessarily Freshwater

Any pearl that is grown and marketed today, (other than those from the Persian Gulf) are considered cultured pearls. This is because these pearls would not exist without human intervention.
A freshwater pearl, although it may be solid nacre, is a cultured pearl where the mussel was nucleated with a piece of mantle tissue in their mantle tissue. All pearls cultured in saltwater are nucleated in the gonad with a piece of mantle tissue and a mother-of-pearl bead, which is how akoya pearls are nucleated.

This is why akoya pearls are cultured pearls, but they are saltwater, not freshwater, and much different in appearance and more valuable than freshwater pearls.
Fine freshwater with fine akoya

Freshwater (top) compared with fine akoya

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