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Freshwater Pearls Vs Saltwater Pearls: The Differences & Cost Comparison!

Freshwater pearls are cheaper, whereas Saltwater pearls are generally more expensive due to their scarcity.

Sugandh Bhatnagar

There are various methods to categorize pearls, but did you know that where a pearl is grown can have a significant impact on its quality and price? Let's look at how saltwater pearls differ from freshwater pearls.

Freshwater vs Saltwater Pearls: Main Differences

The main difference between Freshwater Pearls and Saltwater Pearls is:

  • Freshwater pearls are grown in rivers and lakes by mussels whereas Saltwater pearls are made by oysters in the ocean and come from areas like Thailand, Australia, Indonesia, and Tahiti.

  • Freshwater pearls are nearly 100% nacre, whereas Saltwater pearls are of a thinner nacre coating from 0.5mm to 6mm

  • Freshwater pearls are dyed so they can achieve their shiny look, whereas Saltwater pearls are 100% natural without dye.

How are Freshwater & Saltwater Pearls Created?

The vast majority of pearls, whether saltwater or freshwater, are cultured rather than natural. (how to see if a pearl is real?)

This means that a small bit of snail tissue or a bead was inserted into the mollusk, resulting in the formation of nacre - the material that pearls are comprised of.

In general, the better-created nacre is in terms of quality, the longer is the growing period for a given pearl. Pearls that have been cultivated for a longer period of time, on the other hand, are more expensive.

Contrary to popular belief, most saltwater pearls are produced rather than natural.

Natural pearls are extremely rare, making them out of reach for the majority of people. Freshwater pearls, like saltwater pearls, are primarily cultured.

Which Is More Valuable?

Two main factors contribute to the differences in value between freshwater and saltwater - 

  1. The time it takes to grow a pearl.

  2. How many pearls a single mollusk can produce.

Freshwater pearls are cheaper, whereas Saltwater pearls are generally more expensive due to their scarcity.

Freshwater pearls have a poorer quality lustre than saltwater pearls, while being entirely made of nacre. This may seem counterintuitive, given that the quality of shine is directly proportional to the thickness of the nacre. However, this is because saltwater pearls take longer to grow.

Among the many factors that contribute to the scarcity and rarity of saltwater pearls, the most important is that pearl-producing oysters can only create 1-3 at a time. Freshwater types are so hardy and robust that they can produce 25 or more at a time.

When you consider the greater frequency of freshwater harvests compared to saltwater, you can see why there is such a large disparity in value between the two. It’s worth mentioning again in the context of the cost that modern exploration of applying saltwater cultivation practices to freshwater varieties produces pearls that closely rival the quality.

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