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Freshwater vs. Saltwater Pearls – What’s the Difference?

  • 4 min read

Freshwater vs. Saltwater Pearls – What’s the Difference?

If you’re new to the world of pearls and you’re keen to learn more about the different types available, look no further. In this blog post, we will break down six of the key differences between freshwater and saltwater pearls, to help you decide which of these fabulous gems is best for you or your gift recipient.

6 key differences between freshwater and saltwater pearls


As you may have guessed from their name, freshwater pearls grow in mussels found in freshwater rivers and lakes, while saltwater pearls are sourced from oysters in the ocean. Most freshwater pearls naturally originate from the geographic region of China, except for the original Biwa pearls which come from Lake Biwa in Japan. In contrast, saltwater pearls are formed in protected bays and lagoons where warm oceans are found surrounding Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, French Polynesia and Australia.


Another difference between freshwater and saltwater pearls is their shape. When human intervention is involved, freshwater pearls are formed around a piece of natural tissue, which makes their shape more irregular. On the other hand, saltwater pearls are formed around a spherical bead to ensure a smooth, round finish every time.

Dispelling the myth:it’s a common misconception that saltwater pearls are all natural and freshwater pearls are all cultured (“cultured” means humans have intervened in the natural process to help a pearl grow). In fact, in the majority of cases both saltwater and freshwater pearls are cultured, as natural pearls are exceedingly rare!


The way these two pearl types are formed also determines their lustre. As freshwater pearls are created using a small piece of organic material that breaks down over time, their layers of nacre form faster and the pearl is more dense. Freshwater pearls therefore have a soft, dewy lustre.  

Meanwhile, saltwater pearls are made up of thinner layers of nacre that slowly form around a solid foundation. This gives the saltwater pearl a brilliant, lustrous shine. Akoya pearls, in particular, are known for their crisp, mirror-like finish. Alternatively, South Sea pearls offer a slightly softer, satin-look with either a silver or gold overtone depending on the shade you choose.


If you’re someone who likes to wear colour both saltwater and freshwater pearl jewellery could be the perfect choice. Freshwater pearls mimic the inner nacre of the shell they’re grown in. As the nacre of a shell is so varied in colour, this mean these pearls are available in a vast range of natural colours, including white, cream and pastel hues like peach, pink and purple. Freshwater pearls can also be naturally dyed to enhance their natural colour and achieve a bolder look.

The colour of saltwater pearls depends largely on the type. Akoya pearls tend to have a blue or grey hue, but they are often bleached white as the trend of wearing pure white pearls still continues to this day. Tahitian pearls are known for their dark, iridescent tones, including black, silver, purple and green. Lastly, South Sea pearls are usually either a silvery white or golden colour.


Perhaps the biggest distinction between freshwater and saltwater pearls is their value. Freshwater pearls are produced in much larger volumes, with between 6 and 120 pearls forming in a single mollusc. In contrast, the oysters that produce saltwater pearls tend to produce just 1 pearl in their entire lifetime.

Additionally, there are strict rules and regulations that limit the amount of saltwater pearls that pearl farmers can generate in any given year. As a result, saltwater pearls are harder to farm and more scarce, which ultimately makes them more expensive than freshwater alternatives.

If you’d like to learn more about Freshwater Pearls, watch this video…



Choosing between freshwater vs. saltwater pearls

When choosing between freshwater and saltwater pearls, taking into account the key differences we’ve described above will help you choose the ideal type for you.

For instance, if you’re looking for everyday pearls that can be worn for a variety of occasions, a classic, single strand, freshwater pearl necklace could be a great option. Not only is this highly versatile piece available in a number of different colours, but the freshwater pearls will also withstand frequent wear better than saltwater pearls. Plus, they’re more affordable if you’re working with a limited budget, so you won’t feel the need to be quite so careful throughout the day.

The imperfect shape of freshwater pearls is another vital element to consider. If you prefer more organic jewellery and don’t mind slight irregularities, then freshwater pearls are ideal. However, if you’re a stickler for perfection, saltwater pearls will be more appropriate for you.

Saltwater pearls are also the obvious choice for formal events and special occasions. Their high lustre quite literally lights up your face giving you a radiant glow, making these stunning pearls highly sought after. They’re also a great investment piece for a birthday or anniversary treat for that special someone. Opt for white gold saltwater pearl designs finished with miniature diamonds for an unrivalled sense of glamour.

Find your perfect pearls with Coleman Douglas Pearls

Whether you’ve decided to opt for freshwater pearls or saltwater pearls, you can find an array of beautiful pearl jewellery at Coleman Douglas Pearls.

From classic pearl drop earrings to contemporary leather pearl pendants and fun, multi-strand pearl bracelets, we’ve something for everyone in our varied range.

Browse our full collection online or book an in-person consultation at our London atelier. From helping you choose the perfect pearl colour for your skin tone, to designing a bespoke piece of jewellery especially for you, our team of pearl experts are ready and waiting to assist you.

Give us a call on 0207 373 3369 or email us at to learn more. We look forward to hearing from you.

Photo of our pearls worn by the beautiful award winning singer Friederike Krum at the Café Royal in London by Sam Simpson. Launch shoot of her latest album ‘Somebody Loves Me’ – The Songs of Gershwin.



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