Akoya pearls are the traditional cultured pearl grown in the ocean off Japan and remains the most desired variety among today's top jewelers.  China is also becoming an increasingly important resource for Akoya pearls.

Freshwater pearls are grown in a mussel in saltwater in many areas of the world including North America and are less expensive than Akoya pearls.

Mabe pearls are large, hollow cultured pearls formed by inserting large pieces of mother-of-pearl into oysters. Mabe pearls are usually flatter than round cultured pearls and are widely grown in oval, pear, and circular shapes. Of course, since nature is not always predictable, other shapes are also found.

South Sea Pearls are found in the warmer climates of Australia, Tahiti, Marutea and other exotic locations. These pearls can grow up to 20mm in diameter. The same oyster can produce pearls at different time periods with different hues ranging from greenish black to light gray to white bases. These beautiful and spectacular pearls can be very costly.

Simulated, imitation, and "faux" pearls are man-made out of a variety of products including glass and plastic compounds. 'Nuf said about that.

Quality control
While the origin of the pearl does have a significant bearing of its worth, there are six standards on which the precise value of each precious bead is determined:

1) Luster: is the most important factor in choosing pearls. The inner glow of the pearl combined with the surface brilliance defines luster. The higher the luster, the thicker the nacre or secretion from the oyster and the stronger the glow. Lower quality cultured pearls appear too white, dull or chalky.

2) Surface: the smoothness of the pearl's surface, from clean to heavily blemished, is the next consideration. Cracks or breaks in the nacre are considered damage. Because pearls are grown in an oyster and are organic gems they are almost never flawless. The gem-quality pearl may have minute blemishes when examined very closely, but they are not noticeable at arm's length

3) Shape: it is very rare to find a perfectly round pearl. The rounder the pearl, however, the more valuable it is. Slightly off-round, semi-baroque and baroque pearls are not as valuable as perfectly round pearls, however, they can be lustrous and appealing and have a natural beauty and value of their own.

4) Size: Cultured pearls are measured in millimeters. All other factors being equal the larger the pearl the rarer and more valuable it is.

5) Color: Pearls are available in a rainbow of colors, for example, pinkish (often called rose), silvery white, greenish white, creamy, golden, gray, cognac and black. Color enhancement is considered the norm for both colored and white base pearls. Color consistency effects value; however, current fashion trends and color demand conditions also affect pearl prices.

6) Matching: For pearl necklaces the overall look is very important, regardless of the quality of the individual pearls. The more uniform and aesthetically pleasing two or more pearls look together the more time was spent matching the pearls. This time spent in matching pearls is reflected in the cost.

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