Pearls have been treasured as one of the most beloved gems amongst many circles of people for generations, with Grace Kelly famously saying “pearls are the gem of queens and the queen of gems.”

Despite their popularity, confusion over the distinction between natural, cultured and synthetic pearls is an enduring factor for anyone looking to start or expand their collection of pearl pieces.

Let’s have a look at the key features that define each type of pearl.

Natural Pearls

As their name suggests, natural pearls are formed naturally and without human intervention prior to the moment of their harvest. A natural pearl is formed within a mollusc (oyster, clam, mussel or scallop) when an external irritant makes its way inside the shell. When the mollusc is unable to expel the irritant, it coats it in a layer of nacre – the same iridescent substance that coats the inner lining of the shell – and then repeats this process until a stunning, lustrous pearl is formed.

Natural pearls are exceedingly rare, informing their higher price point comparative to cultured pearls.

Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls are formed the same way natural pearls are, but with human intervention throughout the entire process. Pearl cultivators manually introduce an irritant inside the shell of a mollusc, aiding the uniform growth of the pearl from beginning to end.

As a result of this careful process, cultured pearls have all the depth of lustre that natural pearls do, yet are often more consistent in shape and size. These qualities and a lower price point make cultured pearls highly suited for pearl strands and other jewellery pieces that require consistency of size and shape.

Synthetic Pearls

As their name would suggest, synthetic pearls are not genuine pearls. These manmade alternatives to the real thing are usually glass or plastic beads coated in a pearly finish. Due to the overall difference in size, weight and depth of lustre, synthetic pearls are relatively easy to distinguish from real pearls, and are typically used for children’s jewellery and decorative purposes.

Find out more from an expert jeweller at your nearest Showcase Jewellers store through our store locator.