The insider’s information to pure saltwater pearls


Here is our guide to learning what you need to know when buying natural saltwater pearls. When we talk about pearls in relation to fine jewelry, we usually base the discussion on “natural versus cultured pearls” rather than “saltwater versus freshwater pearls”. But both terminologies are extremely important in any discussion about pearls.

Natural pearls vs. cultured pearls

Very important pair of natural saltwater pearl earrings from our collection. Item number: SM225

For anyone who is not entirely familiar with the difference between natural and cultured, it is actually very easy.

  • Natural pearls are those that grow completely organically in certain species of molluscs. Only when we open these mollusks do we know whether they even contain a pearl, let alone the quality.
  • Cultured pearls are cultivated for agriculture. Still in the same water as natural pearls, but in a much more controlled environment.

A cultured pearl has a head start by introducing a foreign body into the mollusc to start the pearl formation process. This gives much greater certainty of the result of a good quality pearl.

Another great distinction in the world of pearls is fresh and salt water. Learn the real difference between freshwater and saltwater pearls.

How are pearls made?

Natural pearl earringsA beautiful pair of Art Deco style pearl earrings. Part of our collection. (SOLD)

In all cases, a pearl comes from a mollusk, usually an oyster or clam. The mollusc recognizes a foreign body in its shell and covers it with a layer of the mineral aragonite.

The intrusion can be anything from a grain of sand to a microscopic parasite. The mollusk adds more layers to protect the mollusk. These layers are held together by a substance called conchiolin. The combination of aragonite and conchiolin has the common name mother-of-pearl (pronounced nay-ker).

It takes at least a year for even a tiny pearl to develop, whether natural or cultured. Cultured pearls usually only develop 2 to 4 years before harvest. The longer a pearl grows before harvest, the larger it becomes.

Harvesting pearls will not harm the mollusk as long as no harm is done to the host. In cultured pearl farming, the same molluscs are used over multiple harvests, as captive mussels and oysters can live to be 20 years old if properly cared for.

The difference between saltwater and freshwater pearls

Natural Saltwater Pearl Diamond Tiara Chaumet 1920A very rare natural saltwater pearl diamond tiara by Chaumet, circa 1920 that was previously part of our collection.

Both salt and freshwater pearls are almost certainly cultured and not natural. Only one in 10,000 oysters produces a natural pearl that is suitable for jewelry. As a result, pearl diving in open water has almost completely ceased. This means that almost all of the pearls we put on the market are of the cultured type.

Mostly: saltwater pearl farming with oysters and freshwater with mussels.

The farms can be very different in size, from a small plant in a farming pond to large lakes. Due to the use of different molluscs for each type of breeding, the pearls themselves have physical differences.

Because of the different core sizes inserted into each type, the resulting pearl will also be different. The core inserted in a saltwater oyster is usually larger than that in a freshwater clam. As a result, the mother-of-pearl that makes up a freshwater pearl is much thicker than that of a saltwater pearl. Given that the mother-of-pearl quality makes a pearl, you’d think that’s a good thing, but it’s not necessarily the case.

The saltwater pearl’s thinner mother-of-pearl has a much better sheen than its freshwater equivalent. The thicker mother-of-pearl on the freshwater pearl makes it duller and less appealing. Still beautiful, but not like a saltwater pearl.

Salt water vs. fresh water pearls

10730 Necklace with natural satellite water pearls and diamondsVery important natural saltwater pearl and diamond necklace. 193 carat natural pearls and 48 carat diamonds. Item number 10730. EGL certificate. You may contact us for more information.

Although the mother-of-pearl produced in saltwater oysters looks better, it is much thinner. This means it will wear out and flake off much more easily. Traditionally, freshwater pearls are harvested much more often than saltwater, but that is changing. In recent years, some freshwater producers have made the pearls develop longer according to the growing seasons of saltwater, which improves the luster. This of course increases the manufacturing cost of a pearl and therefore increases the cost of acquisition.

In addition, saltwater oysters do not produce more than a pearl or two at a time. Freshwater clams can produce up to 50. However, most manufacturers limit the number of cores injected to fewer than this. This number will decrease further as the pearl has a longer growing time

Saltwater are usually larger than freshwater pearls due to the growing season. Freshwater pearls are usually between 6mm and 9mm in size, while saltwater pearls are 8mm to 14mm in size. Recently, however, we have been seeing freshwater pearls of the same size as salt water.

Saltwater pearls have a pearl core. This makes the pearl much more likely to be round than freshwater. Freshwater pearls have a core of a tiny mother-of-pearl. This means that the pearls can have any shape from perfectly round to baroque (misshapen), depending on how the mussel host reacts.

Buy pearls

10978 Tiffany natural saltwater pearl necklaceVery rare Art Deco natural saltwater pearl necklace by Tiffany and Co from our collection. Item number: 10978. Contact us for more information.

It usually used a straightforward case of budget constraints on pearl purchases. Saltwater pearls can be significantly more expensive due to their limited availability and longer harvest times. Even now that the quality of freshwater pearls is approaching that of saltwater, freshwater is still cheaper. This is in part due to the much larger quantities available.

As mentioned above, freshwater pearls have a much thicker mother-of-pearl and are much more resistant to impact or contact wear. Saltwater pearls are easily damaged and do not go well with everyday jewelry. Lined up, saltwater pearls must be wiped off with a damp cloth after each use, as even natural oils from your body damage the thin mother-of-pearl. Freshwater needs the same care, but will last much longer if not properly cared for.

You can expect to have to pay very different prices for pearls regardless of where they come from. Size, roundness, and shine are all factors that determine price. Perfectly round pearls, for example, are very rare and very expensive.

Rarity of the pearl table

Here is a list of the four types of pearls, in order of their rarity:

  • Cultivated freshwater pearls. These are commonplace and extremely cheap
  • Cultivated saltwater pearls. These are also commonplace and affordable, but can sometimes be a little more expensive because they are less common.
  • Natural freshwater pearls. These are the most common expensive pearls on the market. They cost many times more than cultured pearls and are considered rare.
  • Natural saltwater pearls. These pearls are almost impossible to find. They are extremely rare and are considered investment collectibles. Almost all natural saltwater pearls in circulation are over 100 years old and are part of antique jewelry.

How much do natural saltwater pearls cost?

Pearl earrings-in-estate-diamond-jewelry-showroomPearl earrings-in-estate-diamond-jewelry-showroom

Natural saltwater pearls are very rare and therefore very expensive. A pair of real and certified natural saltwater pearls with good shape and luster can make hundreds of dollars and sometimes millions of dollars.

This easily places natural saltwater pearls in our list of top jewelry investment ideas.

For example, the Natural Pearl and Diamond Tiara, Chaumet, went for $ 3.6 million in 1920.

Our collection of natural saltwater pearls

Necklace with natural saltwater pearls and diamonds on a standItem number: 10730. Rare natural saltwater pearl and diamond necklace

We have been collecting the rarest types of pearls since 1980 and have built a collection.

If you are a collector, please feel free to contact us and request a list of our natural saltwater pearl jewelry.

Here are some of the rare pearl jewelry in our collection.

Antique pearl and diamond earrings

Antique SSEF natural teardrop pearl earrings

Item number: SM225

These antique earrings have fine natural saltwater pearls in the middle and are adorned with a double diamond ring. The pearls are accompanied by SSEF documentation that certifies their references.

Van Cleef and Arpels pearl earrings

VCA earrings with natural pearls and diamonds

Item number: SM234

These rare Van Cleef and Arpels earrings are decorated with natural saltwater pearls in the middle and show a yellow gold frame with a floral motif. Accompanied by SSEF documentation. Handcrafted by Van Cleef and Arpels, around 1970.

Chaumet earrings with natural saltwater pearls

Antique SM275 Chaumet earring with natural saltwater pearls

Item number: SM275

A very rare pair of Chaumet earrings with natural saltwater droplet pearls under a platinum and diamond scroll motif setting. Accompanied by SSEF numbers and documentation. Around 1950

“Salt and Pepper” natural salt water earrings

Item number: 11031

A very fine pair of natural saltwater pearl earrings “Salt and Pepper”, framed by a floral motif arrangement of diamonds. The natural pearls are certified by the SSEF.

SM234 VCA Natural Pearl Earrings Artistic BoxVintage Van Cleef and Arpels natural saltwater pearl earrings. Item number: SM234

If you have any questions about natural saltwater pearls, please feel free to send us a message.

You can also contact us if you are interested in buying or receiving natural saltwater pearls.

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