Let's Talk About Beads 101: Freshwater Pearls vs Shell Pearls

Hey 👋🏾. Welcome to our latest installment of Delightful Gems! I appreciate you taking the time to read along as I discuss/explore different types of beads, jewelry making, and running a small business.

For the past few months, I have been publishing articles under the Let's Talk About Beads 101 series. In this series, I have been discussing different types of beads, specifically the ones I create jewelry with. I felt it was important to do this so that you and I have a better understanding of the materials. I hope that these articles are used as a reference point to gain further knowledge. 

Today, I am continuing with the series and discussing the difference between shell pearls and freshwater pearls. Pearls are one of a few organic gemstones. Pearls are so beautiful and an absolute wonder of nature.

Depending on their origin, pearls can vary widely in price and appearance. Most of the pearls we see today are in some way tampered with by man. The ones that aren't, are rare and extremely expensive. 


Freshwater pearls come from mussels that mature in non-saline water (lakes, rivers, and reservoirs). The majority of freshwater pearls on the market now are cultured. This means that the pearls are grown artificially in pearl farms. Pearl farmers inject an irritant into the mussel to induce pearl production. This process is called nucleation. Saltwater oysters can usually only generate a single cultured pearl at a time. Freshwater mussels are much larger and can produce up to 20 pearls at a time. This is why freshwater pearls are much less expensive than saltwater pearls.

Freshwater pearls have natural pastel undertones such as pink, peach, and lavender. Freshwater pearls are usually not round due to the process of nucleation.

Freshwater pearls are very soft and smooth. This makes them more susceptible to scratches. Freshwater pearls should be kept away from items that can scratch them. 

Pearl jewelry should be worn often to keep them looking lustrous. Human skin oils are one of the best things to keep pearls looking lustrous. Perfumes, colognes, and lotions should not be worn where pearls will be touching the skin as they will absorb those substances. Lotions and skin care products containing citrus oils should be avoided as any acid can dull the surface of pearls. 

Shell Pearls

Shell pearls are widely used in jewelry-making because they are more affordable than natural pearls and are available in a wide range of sizes and shapes. Shell pearls are also more durable and resistant to damage than natural pearls, making them suitable for everyday wear. 

Shell pearls are made from the lining of oyster shells. The shells are cut and formed into spherical cores and then coated in a variety of colors before being polished to give a beautiful pearlescent shine.

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I hope this discussion of freshwater pearls versus shell pearls helped you understand what makes each special. I create primarily with freshwater pearls but if I find some exquisite shell pearls, you might see them in a design in the future. 


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