The Wonder of Pearls: Color and Formation

Many religious and historical scripts throughout the centuries demonstrate how people always regarded pearls as high valued gems. It’s not surprising, if you understand how this fascinating gem is formed and how pearls get their colors.

The most valuable – and exceedingly rare – pearls occur spontaneously in the wild. These are called natural pearls. Farmed or cultured pearls, on the other hand, need the interference from humans to make them grow.

Apart from being used in jewelry, pearls are also used in cosmetics and medicines due to their high concentration of calcium, amino acids, and other minerals.

The Wonder of Pearls

Pearls medicines

How Pearls Are Formed

Pearls are formed when a nucleus – piece of tissue or grain of sand – slips in between the mantle and the shell of a mollusk. This triggers the mollusk to cover the nucleus with nacre, one layer at a time, until the pearl is formed.

Pearls are grown in bivalves – shells consisting of two hinged parts – such as oysters and mussels. Most natural pearls are grown in saltwater while most cultivated pearls are freshwater pearls.

The Wonder of Pearls

Freshwater pearls

Pearl Colors Explained

Pearl colors are made up of three parts. The first is the body color which is its primary shade. Secondly, there is the overtone which is the color on the surface of the pearl. Lastly, there is the orient effect which refers to iridescent colors which look like they are changing and swirling when the light changes or the pearl moves.

Certain factors affect the color of a. These include:
• The initial nucleus or core,
• The type of mollusk in which the pearl grew, and
• The water in which it was formed.

The most common pearls are white with a cream overtone. Other relatively common colors include black, silver, and gray, but there are pearls with almost any hue you can imagine.

Types of Pearls and Their Colors


Black pearls

The major types of pearls include:

Akoya— these saltwater pearls are the most common and are mainly produced in Japan and China. Akoya pearls usually have a white or cream body. Typical hues include yellow, pink, and blue while overtones are mostly pink or green.

South Sea—these pearls are primarily grown in the sea around Australia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. South Sea pearls usually have a cream or white body with yellow, orange, or blue hue, and a pink, green, or blue overtone.

Tahitian—these pearls are cultivated around the islands of French Polynesia, which includes Tahiti. Most black pearls come from this region, and standard body colors include black, gray, or brown. Hues include blue, green, purple, and yellowish green while the overtone can be pink, green, or blue.

Freshwater—these pearls are cultured in freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers and are mostly grown in China and the US. Freshwater pearls come in a wide range of colors, sizes, and shapes. Body colors are usually white or cream, with hues of yellow, orange, pink, or purple. Overtones include pink, blue, and green.

Edison – these freshwater pearls are cultivated in China by a select few farmers. Edison pearls have the widest range of colors available of all types of pearls, and the palette ranges from white, cream, peach, pink, gold, metallic, coppery, plum, to aubergine-purple.

With this broad pallet of colors available, it’s easy to find pearl jewelry that suits your taste. When shopping for pearl jewelry, hold the pearls against your skin to make sure the pearls compliment your skin tone.

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