Until the early 1900s, pearls were discovered only by chance in oysters, making any pearl exceedingly rare and valuable, typically reserved for royalty and nobility. Today, most pearls are cultured, which means they are farmed, not found, but they are just as real.
Most cultured pearls are judged by how perfect they are: They must be completely round, smooth, and unblemished, and have just the right colour. These kind remain the classic and are the most highly sought after.
But unique shapes like baroque and Melo Melo pearls are gaining popularity. They come in many colors, whether pure white to vivid gold or deep charcoal, and in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Here are the five types to know.
The founder of the Japanese jewellery company K Mikimoto & Co created the first cultured pearl in 1893 using Akoya oysters.
Akoyas have a very high lustre and are typically white, with pink overtones that distinguish them from other pearls. They are also smaller in size.
Baroque pearls can come in all shapes, sizes, and colours. They were once desirable – any pearl was valuable – but after the invention of perfectly round cultured options, baroques were deemed inferior and destroyed. Now many collectors like the edgy look, and brands are using them again.
First cultured by Mikimoto and found in Japan's Lake Biwa, these non-symmetrical pearls are created in mussels, not oysters, giving them a range of unique colours.
Golden South Sea necklace
Harvested from the warmer waters of Indonesia and the Philippines, golden South Sea pearls vary from a pale champagne colour to a rich gold and have a soft lustre.
Melo Melo necklace
Unlike most on the market today, Melo Melo pearls cannot be cultured and are found by chance in a southern Asian sea snail, making them the rarest of all. They take decades to grow and can reach rather large sizes because of the unique shape of the snail's shell—the biggest ever found weighed almost 400 carats. The best versions have a porcelain-like finish and a remarkable flame pattern.