Pearl Guide, Pt. 2

Janice Stiles

Freshwater Pearls

The image above is a perfect example of the wide variety of shapes, colors and luster of some of the freshwater pearls in my collection!

People often ask if freshwater pearls are “real” pearls.
Using the test in Pearl Guide, Part 1—check it out here if you haven’t read it—absolutely!

Freshwater pearls are grown using mussels that reside in freshwater, as opposed to salt water. They come in a wide variety of shapes and the “type” is found in its name. For example: potato, stick, button, coin, drop, off–round, round and baroque. Baroque means “not round” so these pearls come in a multitude of unusual shapes. Typical sizes for freshwater pearls are 5-10mm, although they can be as small as 1-2 mm and as large as 15mm.

Pearls are evaluated using a number of criteria. The most important to me in buying and using freshwater pearls are surface quality and luster, together with color. Surface quality should have minor divots or blemishes, with 75-90% clean surface area. Luster is about reflections and is what creates a fabulous pearl. Look for bright reflections; this is a good pearl. Pearls with poor luster appear dull and flat.

Colored freshwater pearls can be natural or dyed. Typical natural colors include white, cream, yellow, orange, pink and purple. The color depends on the type of mussel, its diet and growing environment. Color also has some other characteristics. First is the bodycolor, which is the pearl’s main color. Overtone is a translucent color that lies over the main bodycolor, which is more likely to be found in saltwater pearls.

Freshwater pearls have something called “orient”. This is where they shimmer! Take your pearls into the sunlight and see what happens. If you see multiple colors just below the surface, that is orient! The cost of jewelry containing freshwater pearls will vary depending on all of these factors.

Pearl BoatsCheck out the Tres Elegante Designs Pearls and Stones Collection!

My love of pearls began at age 11, when my parents gifted me a pearl ring that I cherish to this day. My pearl passion grew deeper when, at 16, my grandmother gave me a set of graduated Mikimoto pearls my father had brought back from the Korean War. This collection, in its diversity of design, celebrates my love of pearls and their inherent versatility. Click Here to shop the collection! 

Unique Properties of Pearls


Historically, pearls have been thought to promote faith, charity and integrity. Pearls have been worn for thousands of years and are one of the most sought-after gems. Pearls are the only gems that are created by a living being: freshwater and saltwater mollusks.

Because of their organic origin, pearls are “gems” but not “stones". In ancient civilizations, pearls were the ultimate symbol of wealth and social status. They have been associated with love and marriage and were believed to have an ability to protect the wearer from harm.

Since pearls are grown in a mollusk, they are truly organic and no two are ever exactly alike, unlike gems that are mined from the earth and cut into shapes. One of pearls’ most unique properties are optical, caused by the refraction of light as it passes through multiple layers of nacre.
The unique color combinations that can be seen, especially in sunlight, are called“orient” and “overtones.” These colors cannot be found in inorganic gemstones and cannot be replicated in a lab. Pearls are frequently paired with inorganic gemstones and metals as their luminescence enhances so many other colors!
If you love learning more about the variety of jewelry mediums and styles, make sure to sign up for my newsletter so you can receive all the good stuff straight to your inbox.
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If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to send me an email at - I could talk about pearls all day long!

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