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The Jewelry Hut Pearls Buying Guides
Cultured Pearls Glossary

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Glossary

  • Abalone Pearl: A natural pearl that comes from an abalone, a univalve mollusk known for its tasty meat and iridescent bluish inner shell color.  Most abalone pearls are natural, however blister pearls, Mabe pearls, and some semi-round pearls are being cultured in these mollusks.
  • Akoya Cultured Pearl:   The industry term for cultured pearls produced in several species of saltwater oysters to include Pinctada Fucata and Pinctada Martensi. Akoya oysters are typically found in the cooler waters of Japan and China. Akoya cultured pearls generally range in size from 2 mm to 10 mm and range in color from white, rose, cream, gold, and blue/gray. High quality Akoya cultured pearls are renowned for their bright and intense luster.
  • Ama: The name given to the women who originally dove for the oysters.
  • Awabi Pearl: Japanese name for abalone pearls.
  • Baroque: An industry expression used to describe any pearl that is not symmetrical. Typically baroque pearls, whether cultured or natural, will be free form and asymmetrical.
  • Bivalve Mollusc: A mollusk with a pair of shells (valves) which open by a means of a hinge.
  • Biwa pearl: Cultured Freshwater pearls that are grown by a Freshwater mussel located in Lake Biwa in Japan.  Recently, The U.S. Federal Trade Commission ruled that the term “Biwa pearl” may be used to describe any Freshwater pearl that come from Freshwater mussel in Japan.
  • Black-lip Oyster: An oyster, known scientifically as Pinctada Margaritifera, found in the South Pacific, in areas such as French Polynesi, Okinawa, and Cook Island. This particular species of oyster grows to about 12 inches in diameter and produces a wide range of dark-colored pearls commonly called “Tahitian Pearls” or “black pearls”.  The natural colors of pearls grown by this oyster include silver/white, light gray, dark gray, orange, gold, green, purple, and black.
  • Blemish: A blemish refer to any surface defect on a pearl.  Blemishes can include spots, bumps, pits, holes, cracks, chips, wrinkles, and dull spots. Blemishes fall into two categories, damaging blemishes and non-damaging blemishes. Non-damaging blemishes include spots, bumps, pits, and wrinkles. These types of blemishes do not affect the durability of a pearl but will affect the price.  Damaging blemishes, however, such as cracks, holes, and chips will only get larger over time and wear and can seriously affect the durability of a pearl
  • Blister Pearl: A pearl that has grown onto the inside surface of a mollusk’s shell, so that it is dome-shape on one side and flattened on the other.  See also Mabe pearl.
  • Button: A shape of a pearl where one side of the pearl is slightly flat.
  • Choker: An industry standard length of a pearl necklace between 16 - 18 inches in length.
  • Circles: Concentric rings that from on the surface of a pearl that are concave in appearance. If circles are apparent on more than 1/3 of a pearl’s surface then the term “circle pearl” is applied to describe the shape of a pearl. If less than 1/3 of a pearl’s surface is covered by circles, then the circle is considered a blemish and not a shape description.
  • Clean: A term used to describe the absence of relative absence of any blemishes on the surface of a pearl.
  • Collar: An industry standard length of a pearl necklace between 10 - 13 inches in length that usually rests in the middle of the neck. Collars are sometimes referred to as “dog collars” and are usually made up of two or more strands.
  • Color: A quality/value evaluation category used to describe the color of a pearl. Although color is not particularly an indicator of quality, generally creamy/yellow hues are less valuable than other pearl colors.
  • Conch pearl: A pearl produced by a conch, a saltwater mollusk found in tropical waters. Usually conch pearls exhibit orange and pink colors and tend to look similar to pink coral.
  • Corn pearl: A pearl shaped like a kemel of corn, usually from China.
  • Cultured pearl: Any pearl which is grown by a mollusk that contains either a hard bead nucleus or soft tissue nucleus at its center, which has been surgically implanted in a mollusk by human means.
  • Cultivated pearl: Any pearl which is grown by a mollusk that contains either a hard bead nucleus or a soft tissue nucleus at its center, which has been surgically implanted in a mollusk by human means.
  • Freshwater cultured pearl: Any cultured pearl that is grown by a freshwater mollusk.  Freshwater mollusks usually inhabit lakes and rivers, but they can be grown in ponds as well.
  • Grafting: The process of nucleating a mollusk to produce a pearl   Also termed as nucleation or implantation, grafting requires the human insertion of either a hard bead nucleus or soft mantle tissue into either the body of a mollusk or the mantle tissue of a mollusk.  The nucleus tissue serves as a “seed” or “irritant” to produce a cultured pearl.
  • Gold-lip Oyster: A large species of oyster, from the Pinctada Maxima family that can produce cream to gold colored South Sea pearls.  Gold-lip oysters can be found in the waters off Australia, Indonesia, The Philippines, and Japan.
  • Imitation Pearl: A simulated pearl manufactured entirely by man or machine.
  • Keshii Pearl: A Keshii cultured pearl, sometimes referred to as a seed pearl, is non-nucleated pearl.  Keshii pearls form by accident in mollusks (usually saltwater mollusks) as a by-product of the culturing process and thus can not be considered natural pearls. Keshii pearls can be as small as 1 mm and as large as 10 mm in size.
  • Luster: A quality evaluation category used to describe the combination of surface shine (reflectivity) and inner light refraction (depth).  Luster is perhaps the most important of all quality factors and is expressed in terms of high, medium, and low luster.  The luster (lustre) of a high quality cultured pearl should be bright and capable of sharply reflecting objects near its surface.  A dull or chalky luster indicated poor quality.
  • Mabe Pearl: A half-spherical cultured pearl grown on the inside shell of a mollusk, as opposed to inside a mollusk’s body.  Mabe pearls are grown by glueing a plastic hemisphere onto inside of a mollusk’s shell. Once the hemispherical nucleus is covered with a sufficient amount of nacre, the pearl is cut away from the inner shell, the bead taken out, and the cavity filled with a substance such as apoxy resin and backed by a mother-of-pearl plate.  Mabe cultured pearls are sometimes referred to as blister pearls.
  • Majorica Pearl:  A simulated pearl made by the Spanish Majorica Company.
  • Mantle tissue: The thin tissue membrane that attaches a mollusk to its inner shell. Small pieces of mantle tissue are used exclusively (without a hard bead nucleus) in many Freshwater mussels to grow cultured pearls.
  • Matching: The process of matching pearls in terms of luster, surface, shape, color, and size to assembele a necklace or other piece of pearl jewelry.
  • Matinee: An industry standard length of a pearl necklace between 20 - 24 inches in length.
  • Millimeter (mm): A metric unit of measurement of length used to determine a pearl’s size (diameter).  Often express as ‘mm’, whereby one ‘mm’ equals 1.25 of an inch.
  • Momme: A Japanese unit of weight measurement used for pearls.  One Momme equals 3.75 grams or 18.75 carats.
  • Nacre: A calcium carbonate based crystalline substance secreted by mollusks to form mother-of-pearl, pearls, and cultured pearls. Nacre secretion by a mollusk is usually a defense mechanism triggered by intrusion of a foreign object into the body of an oyster.
  • Natural Pearl: Any pearl grown without human interference.  Sometimes called “Orient Pearls.”
  • Nucleus: Typically a small, round piece of polished shell from an American Freshwater mussel used as an irritant or core in all saltwater cultured pearl production.  In Freshwater cultured pearl production, a nucleus is usually a small piec of soft mantle tissue from another Freshwater mussel.
  • Nucleation: The process of nucleating a mollusk to produce a pearl.  Also termed as grafting or implantation, nucleation requires the human insertion of either a hard bead nucleus or soft mantle tissue serves as a ‘seed’ or ‘irritant’ to produce a cultured pearl.
  • Opera: An industry standard length of a pearl necklace between 28 - 32 inches in length.
  • Organic Gem: Gem made or derived from living organisms.
  • Orient: Refers to a pearl’s iridescence.
  • Oriental pearl: A term sometimes used to refer to a natural pearl.
  • Peacock Pearl: A type of black pearl, usually with dark green tones.  genuine black pearls are produced by oyster Pinctada Margaritifera.  The term “Peacock Pearl” often is frequently applied to irridescent black Freshwater pearls, which achieve their color as result of irradiation, heating, and /or dyeing.
  • Pinctada: Refers to a pearl producing oyster genus.
  • P. Fucata: Oyster used to produce Japanese and Chinese cultured pearls.
  • P. Maxima: A large oyster used to produce South Sea cultured pearls.
  • P. Martensii: A pearl producing oyster used in Japan and China, smaller than Maxima and capable of producing pearls up to a maximum of about 10 mm.
  • P. Margaritifera:  A pearl producing oyster with black, white, or golden colored “lips”.  The lack variety is used to create Tahitian black cultured pearls.
  • Pteria Penguin: Mollusk used to produce Mabe pearls.
  • Potato: Refers to a pearl with an oblong shape, such that it resembles a potato. Most potato pearls are Freshwater cultured pearls from China.
  • Princess: An industry standard length of a pearl necklace between 17 - 19 inches in length.
  • Rice Pearl: A Freshwater cultured pearl with a crinkled surface and elongated shape, such that it resembles a grain of rice.  Most rice pearls originate from China or the United States.
  • Rope: An industry standard length of a pearl necklace over 45 inches in length.
  • Saltwater pearl: Any pearl, natural or cultivated, that is grown in a mollusk that live in salt ocean water.
  • Seed Pearls: Tiny natural pearls weighting under 1/4 grain, usually less than 2 mm in diameter.
  • Shape: A quality evaluation category used to describe the shape of a pearl. The most valuable pearls are round.  However, other shapes of pearls include off-round, drop, oval, button (one flat side), circled, semi-baroque, and baroque (asymmetrical or free form). Freshwater cultured pearls are grown in all of the aforementioned shapes as well as stick, angel-wing, cross and coin (flat on two sides) shape
  • Size: A quality and/or price evaluation category used to describe the size of a cultured pearl.  Size descriptions are expressed in millimeter and measured by the diameter of a pearl.
  • Sorting: The process of sorting pearls before matching and jewelry assembly to separate pearls by luster, surface, shape, and size.
  • South Sea Cultured Pearl: An industry name for large cultured pearls grown in the white-lip oyster (Pinctada Maxima).  South Sea cultured pearls generally range in size from 8 - over 22 mm in some cases and can range in color from white to gold, with silver, cream, and champagne in between.
  • Surface: A quality evaluation category used to describe the amount of blemishes on the surface of a pearl or cultured pearl. Surface descriptions range from clean (no visible blemishes) to heavily blemished.
  • Tahitian Cultured Pearls: Cultured pearls produced by the black-lip oyster (Pinctada Margaritifera) found in the atolls and lagoons of French Polynesia. Tahitian cultured pearls are natural in color and are produced in hues of silevr, gray, green, orange, gold, blue, purple, and black.
  • White-lip Oyster: A large species of oyster from Pinctada maxima family, found in the waters off Australia, Indonesia, The Philippines, and Japan.  These oysters grow in excess of 12 inches in length and can produce a wide range of South Sea cultured pearls in sizes from 8 mm to over 22 mm and in colors including silver/white, pink, and cream.


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