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Saltwater Pearls

Saltwater Pearls Defined

A saltwater pearl is a calcium concretion (can be nacreous or non-nacreous) produced by a saltwater mollusk that lives in a saline/marine environment. These pearls can be either natural (no human intervention in its production and a product of a fishing operation) or cultured (produced with human intervention by means of pearl farming).


Natural Saltwater Pearls

Traditionally, most pearls were fished from saltwater-dwelling mollusks in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the coastal waters of India and Japan. These saltwater pearls were referred to as marine pearls. Natural saltwater pearls are still found, but their yield is too small to amount to hold a significant market share.

According to pearl expert Peter Balogh, the annual harvest of natural pearls in the Persian Gulf (per DANAT) is of 7 kilos (15.43 lbs), whereas cultured pearl production -per year- is of around 40 tons (80.000 pounds)!
World Production of Pearls vs Cultured - Peter Balogh - From Peter Balogh's FB account






Saltwater Pearls Today

Pearls cultured in mollusks inhabiting saline waters are considered saltwater pearls. The three most common types of saltwater pearls are Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea pearls.


Shape of Saltwater Cultured Pearls

Saltwater cultured pearls tend to have rounder shapes than freshwater cultured pearls. This is due to the fact that saltwater mollusks are universally bead-nucleated, so, unless the saltwater pearl is a "keshi pearl", it will have a bead core within it.

Even with the bead inside guiding its shape, most cultured pearls today have plenty of different shapes that have been categorized in broad terms as:
  • Round and Near-Round
  • Semi-Baroques or Symmetrical
  • Baroques or Assymetrical

Saltwater Pearl Farming

Saltwater pearls are cultured by prying open the mollusk by 2-3 centimeters (about 1-1.5 inches). A technician then uses a scalpel to make a tiny incision on the gonad (reproductive organ) of the mollusk. A small bead nucleus is then inserted into the oyster's gonad and this is then followed by a tiny piece of mantle tissue (from a donor pearl oyster), which is then placed on top of it.
Seeding a Rainbow Lip Oyster - Seeding a Rainbow Lip Oyster





The epithelial cells in this mantle tissue will -hopefully- begin to multiply, growing around the nucleus and producing a "pearl sac". This is where the pearl grows.
After a period of convalescence, the pearl oysters are taken to the farm for a time frame (between 8 to 36 months) for the pearl to grow and then the pearls are harvested.

This process is the same for all saltwater pearls -with small variations- cultured with a bead nucleus today.



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