Pearl Specialist Mini Course
Natural vs Cultured Pearls
What's the Difference Between Natural Pearls and Cultured Pearls?
Many natural gemstones have lab-made counterparts. However, there aren't any synthetic pearls. All pearls, both natural and cultured, are created biologically, not in the laboratory. The difference is more akin to the difference between wild-caught and farm-raised fish.
Natural pearls occur in the wild. Specialized pearl divers collect mollusks from the sea bed and open them, trying to find a pearl. They face very low odds, with about one in 100,000 shells producing a pearl. In addition, these natural pearls are often small and usually have baroque (asymmetrical) shapes. Diving for natural pearls is a business of chance.
In contrast, cultured pearls come from mollusks raised on a pearl farm. There, the farmer implants a seed into the mollusk to induce nacre growth, and the mollusk forms a pearl around the implant. In most operations, each shell yields multiple, large, round, beautiful pearls.
How Can I Distinguish Between Natural Pearls and Cultured Pearls?
Distinguishing between natural and cultured pearls can be difficult. However, in general, if you're in a store buying pearls, you're dealing with cultured pearls. Natural pearls are extremely rare, and most sell at auction.
A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison’s interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth’s geological processes began in her elementary school’s environmental club. When she isn’t writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.
When you join the IGS community, you get trusted diamond & gemstone information when you need it.
Get started with the International Gem Society’s free guide to gemstone identification. Join our weekly newsletter & get a free copy of the Gem ID Checklist!