When people who are not in the jewelry or pearl industry talk about pearls being “natural” it’s not clear to what exactly they are referring because even “cultured” pearls are natural organic gems that grow inside a living oyster or mollusk and therefore are not synthetic or formed in a factory. And it gets more complicated when people start referring to pearls that come from specific regions, like Japanese Akoya or Tahitian black pearls or the ones that are famous as the Golden South Sea pearls.
Here’s a little help to clarify the word “natural” when it comes to pearls, and the connotations of what constitutes an “organic gem” and the reason why South Sea pearls are so expensive when set into jewelry.
1. Natural pearl is a term used to describe only those that grow inside an oyster or mollusk by accident in the wild without any care or interference on the part of man. In order to get these natural pearls, experts must find the oyster beds, dive and collect them, open each oyster and hunt and hunt and hunt until perhaps one single crustacean amongst thousands has a single gem growing inside its tissue. If you see very expensive South Sea pearl rings in a jewelry shop and ask if they are natural chances are the answer will be “no, it’s cultured, but that only means it wasn’t found by accident in the wild, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t formed inside an oyster.
2. Cultured organic gems are also natural by composition and the way in which they grow. However since man implants a seed or grafts an irritant into the flesh of an oyster to guarantee a pearl after X period of time, it’s considered “cultured” and not wild or truly natural by definition. There are many Akoya, South Sea and other varieties that are all grown in their natural habitats but controlled by farmers.
3. The top grade south sea pearl ring designs that are very expensive will normally not be natural unless you’re paying an extraordinary large sum. Those that range in price from a few thousand to $10,000 are still cultured.
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