Saltwater Pearls are grown in mollusks in various saline seas of the world, from Japan and China and the South Seas, including Australia and New Zealand, to the western coast of North America. The mollusks can be oysters, from the very small to the very large, or they can be sea snails or abalone. Other mollusks can form Pearls, but they are not very large, beautiful or sturdy.
Pearls are made up of nacreous secretions of the mollusk in response to an injury or irritation. They can form naturally, and originally that was the only kind of Pearls that could be found, however rarely. Humans have dived deep into the water to locate and bring to the surface mollusks for thousands of years. Out of a ton of mollusks, however, only a very few – one to four – beautiful saltwater Pearls would be found, though the meat and shells came in handy to the foragers.
These marine Pearls are still occasionally found today, but their number is insignificant compared to that of all the Pearls which are cultivated. Nowadays almost every saltwater Pearl sold is of the cultured variety, helped along by human hands on Pearl farms.
Saltwater Pearls differ in size, color, and shape. Tiny Pearls can be found, though these are not very useful. Pearls can grow to several inches, but these are rarities, and often are bulbous and not as attractive. The type of Pearl used as a gemstone is often round and smooth, and this is more easily achieved when controlling the Pearl’s growth on a Pearl farm.
Freshwater Pearls are more plentiful and cheaper, because many Pearls at a time can be grown in the mussel’s mantle, in non-bead-nucleated methods. In contrast, the saltwater mollusk is usually only home to one Pearl at a time and their pearls are rounder, due to the bead nucleus that has been implanted in the mollusk by a Pearl farmer. These bead centers can be seen with x-rays, but the saltwater Pearl has every look of a Pearl and is considered a true pearl, though not a natural one. The most well-known of the saltwater Pearls are the Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea Pearls.
The main difference between a freshwater and a saltwater Pearl is that the former consists completely of nacre, whereas the saltwater Pearl consists of a bead that is coated with nacre, meaning they are often round, and range in thickness from half a millimeter in an Akoya, to six millimeters in a South Sea Pearl. The thicker the nacre, the more expensive the Pearl, which makes freshwater Pearls a bargain in comparison.
Saltwater Pearls range in size from the average seven millimeter Akoya, to the typical South Sea twelve millimeter orb. Akoya can be found as small as one millimeter, while the baroque South Sea saltwater Pearls can get as large as twenty millimeters across, though their steep price will make them harder to observe, outside of museums and homes of wealthy collectors.
Saltwater Pearls run the gamut of colors from white to black, with many colorful variations in between, though many of them tend towards the lighter colors, with a glossy surface and moderate luster. Abalone Pearls, on the other hand, are colored like the rainbow, and asymmetrically-shaped, so it depends on the type of mollusk, and where and how it is grown as to the final appearance of a saltwater Pearl.