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Natural Pearls VS Cultured Pearls: Benefits & Differences

Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls

In the world of authentic pearls, there are two primary types often compared to one another: natural pearls vs cultured pearls. Both are real gemstones, but it’s the way they are formed that makes them different.

Creation: The Biggest Difference Between Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls

How is a natural pearl created? It’s formed naturally when an irritant finds itself inside the oyster’s soft tissue muscle accidentally. This irritant, such as sea water sand, activates the oyster’s defense mechanism, causing it to produce layers of secretions. Referred to as nacre, the secretion layers go on to form a natural pearl.

Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls
Natural Pearls vs Cultured Pearls. Image Source: vijay-hemmadi/LinkedIn

What’s the difference in the way a cultured pearl is formed? A cultured pearl is born through the same process. However, the main difference between natural pearls vs cultured pearls is that the irritant isn’t inserted accidentally.

The Birth of the Cultured Pearl

Pearl cultivation involves the process of pearl farmers physically inserting an irritant, such as shell bead nucleus, inside the soft tissue of the oyster. From there, the layers of nacre are formed naturally, just like with natural pearls.  

So, the main difference between natural and cultured pearls is the way the secretion process begins. With natural pearls, it takes place in the ocean without human intervention. Cultured pearls require the assistance of pearl farmers to begin the nacre-creating process.

Why Are Natural Pearls So Rare (with Higher Pearl Value)?

Natural pearls are created in the ocean. It can take more than 100,000 of these deep-sea-living creatures to make just one strand of pearls. And, with so many sea-borne predators, ocean-pollution, oyster divers and other things that cause premature deaths for the animals, finding quality gems when diving for pearls is quite rare these days.

Bahrain pearl divers shave their heads, grease their bodies and use ropes and baskets to dive for natural pearls.
Bahrain pearl divers shave their heads, grease their bodies and use ropes and baskets to dive for natural pearls. Krikor calls them “The Japanese who killed the Natural Pearl.”

This drives the demand and the value of natural pearls through the roof. The rarity of the gemstones increases the costs, making them almost unaffordable for many. Pearl cost is one of the biggest differences between natural pearls vs cultured pearls. 

Cultured pearls tackle this problem and more. Different types of oysters produce different pearl colors, sizes and shapes. They also create pearls with different overtones, surface quality and luster. All of these factors when used in conjunction with each other determines the value of a pearl.

Freshwater cultured pearl grading
Freshwater cultured pearl grading. Image Source: China Dialogue

Cultured Pearl Quality

Because cultured pearls are created in controlled environments, the survival rates of the oysters are much higher. This allows pearl farmers to produce high-quality, authentic pearls at higher rates than what can be obtained by oyster divers.

As a matter of fact, according to the American Gem Society, most of the ocean’s natural pearls have already been harvested by pearl divers.

Therefore, even though the quality of a cultured pearl may be the same, pearl grade wise, as that of a natural pearl, the cultured version is generally much more affordable because of rarity.

4 Benefits of Cultured Pearls vs Natural Pearls

Black Tahitian Pearls
Black Tahitian Pearls. Image Credit: tahiti © 123RF.com

When comparing natural pearls vs cultured pearls, there are some advantages to both types of gemstones. Here are four of the benefits of cultured pearls over their ocean-life counterparts:

1. Same Pearl Value

Once the irritant is placed inside the oyster, the rest of the cultured pearl growth process is natural. The animal is tended to and nurtured by pearl farmers who want nothing more than a successful crop. With luck, experience and care, the oysters go on to create high-quality gems, with the same pearl value as natural pearls.

Note: We believe value is about quality, not trending market prices.

2. Lower Pearl Cost

Because natural pearls are so rare, they are extremely expensive. There are few, if any, left in the seas to harvest anymore. So, buying natural pearls means finding a vintage pearl or antique pearl jewelry, which will come with astronomical costs.

Cultured pearls are nurtured on pearl farms, giving them pretty decent survival rates. This puts more of the gems on the pearl jewelry market, while keep their costs lower than those of natural pearls. And, to deflate one of the most common pearl myths floating around, cultured pearls are REAL pearls.

3. Safer Than Pearl Diving

There are numerous dangers of diving for pearls in the open waters. This is a for dangerous profession that’s almost obsolete these days. Yet, some still go out diving for oysters, hoping to come up with a nice supply of quality natural pearls. Pearl divers risk suffering from run-ins with:

  • Hypothermia
  • Decompression sickness
  • Environmental risks
  • Dangerous sea creatures
  • Deep water blackout
  • Drowning

So many deaths were reported in the pearl diving industry throughout its thriving years. This also contributes to the rarity and still-soaring costs of buying natural pearls. Cultured pearl farms are privately owned, and safe for both the cultivators and the oysters.

4. More Pearl Jewelry Styles

Just like natural pearls, cultured pearls are created in both freshwater and saltwater. Different types of oysters are used to cultivate different saltwater and freshwater gems in various:

Because natural pearls are so rare these days, most of the pearl jewelry you see on the market today features real cultured pearls. Using the same premise used by Mother Nature to create gems of the sea, pearl farmers know how to increase the chances of creating different types and styles of pearls.

This makes them one of the most versatile gems on the jewelry market. So, when shopping for natural pearls vs cultured pearls, expect to find more of a variety on the cultured market.

The Benefits of Cultured Pearl Jewelry vs Natural Pearl Jewelry

So, what are the benefits of buying natural pearls? Well, basically, it means you have arrived. You are probably one of those fashionable divas or fashion kings who has the money to spend of thousands of dollars-worth of natural pearl jewelry. Hey now!!!

Long Strand of White Cultured Pearls. Image by Mika Larson Photography.
Long Strand of White Cultured Pearls. Image by Mika Larson Photography.

But, if you’re like most of us, you simply can’t afford the costs of buying natural pearls. Instead, simply concentrate on the benefits of cultured pearls. This will get you so much more for you hard-earned bucks. And, the quality and luster of the gems will be just as visually appealing as their ocean-bred counterparts.

These are just some of the differences of natural pearls vs cultured pearls. And, always remember, cultured pearls are real pearls

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Kiesha Joseph
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Kiesha Joseph

The Pearl Source Content Manager at Content Marketing Geek Corporation
Kiesha Joseph is the Managing Content Editor for ThePearlSource.com, a leading online pearl jewelry website offering high-quality pearls at affordable prices. Kiesha is a Content Marketing Geek who enjoys educating her audience on a broad range of topics, including trends in marketing, SEO, jewelry, fashion, celebrity style and more.
Kiesha Joseph
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