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Different Colors of Pearls

If you go looking for pearl jewelry, you'll find them in various colors. The many different hues of pearls are used to make beautifully colored pearl jewelry. In this article, we shall learn about the different colors of pearls that are available in the market, which include the ones that are rarer than the rest.
Mukulika Mukherjee
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Whenever we think of pearls, what comes to our mind is a shining pearl inside an oyster. However, not all pearls come from pearl oysters that are found in saltwater. You also find freshwater pearls that are formed inside certain species of mussels found in rivers, lakes, and other freshwater bodies. It is difficult to tell a freshwater pearl from a saltwater one, because they all look the same. However, saltwater pearls are more expensive than their freshwater counterparts. The simple reason for this is that a major part of the freshwater pearls available in the market today are not naturally occurring but cultured.
What are Freshwater and Saltwater Pearls
Saltwater pearls are found inside certain species of pearl oysters, such as the Gulf pearl oyster (Pinctada radiata), Black-lip oyster (Pinctada margaritifera), white-lip oyster (Pinctada maxima), the Akoya pearl oyster (Pinctada fucata), and other members of the Pinctada species. Freshwater pearls, however, are mostly harvested from a species of freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera).

Saltwater pearls are superior to freshwater pearls when it comes to quality. This is because you would find more saltwater pearls that are lustrous and perfectly spherical, when compared to freshwater pearls. However, freshwater pearls are more popular because of the wide range of colors and shapes that they come in, and also because they come at a much lesser price than saltwater pearls.
Natural Colors of Pearls
Today, you can find pearls in a range of colors, but not all colors are natural. First we shall have a look at the colors in which both freshwater and saltwater pearls occur in nature.
Freshwater Pearls
Freshwater pearls are found in a wide range of colors and they are more often irregular in shape, as compared to their saltwater counterparts. It is due to the many colors of freshwater pearls that you find such wide variety in pearl jewelry. Also, hybridization of different colored mussels has made it possible to obtain pearls in never-seen-before colors.

Natural freshwater pearls occur only in 3 colors: pink, white, and lavender. The cultured freshwater pearls are dyed to give them darker shades of color. Now, if you're wondering what gives a pearl its natural color, then let me tell you that the color of the pearl is mainly determined by the species of mussel and the temperature of the water. The natural color of a pearl is determined by the color of the shell in which it is formed. You can have a look at the three natural colors of freshwater pearls, given above.
Saltwater Pearls
Saltwater pearls are classified into three main types: Akoya pearls, Tahitian pearls, and South Sea pearls. Each of these pearls come in different colors, where the color depends on the species of pearl oyster that produces the pearl. Let us learn a little about each one of them.
Akoya Pearls
Akoya pearls are found in the waters surrounding Japan, and are renowned for their luster. These pearls grow to a maximum of 8 mm and vary widely in size, color, and luster. The most common colors found in Akoya pearls are cream, silver, pink, and white.
Tahitian Pearls
Found in the Pacific Ocean, the Tahitian pearl is produced by the black-lipped pearl oyster and can grow up to 10 mm in size. A characteristic feature of the Tahitian pearl is its thick nacre layer. Most of these pearls are, however, not exactly round, but baroque-shaped. Tahitian pearls are mostly found in shades of gray and are rarely black in color. However, these pearls are referred to as "black pearls" because of their relatively darker shades.
South Sea Pearls
South Sea pearls are the largest saltwater pearls and can grow up to 13 mm in diameter. There are two sub-species of oysters that produce these pearls, and they are the gold-lipped oyster and the silver-lipped oyster. As the name suggests, the South Sea pearls are found in the Southern hemisphere, near Australia and the waters surrounding Indonesia. The South Sea pearls are mostly white, tan, gray, yellow, or golden in color.
Artificial Colors of Pearls
However, not all colors are natural, and some pearls are dyed to give them the desired colors. These are available in colors like pink, brown, green, blue, lavender, red, cream, and yellow. So, what are the different methods to impart these shades to the pearls? Well, the pearls are dyed, chemically treated, or irradiated to give them the desired colors. No matter what the method of coloring, the color is almost always permanent. Freshwater pearls are found in a wide range of artificial colors, but saltwater pearls are not. Given above are few of the most popular artificial colors in which pearls are found in the market.

Today, the freshwater pearls are of a much higher quality than those produced around a few decades ago. Traditionally, pearl oysters have been the sole source of pearls. However, recently pearls produced by freshwater mussels have taken over the market worldwide.