With a beauty so iridescent, irregular and agleam with a light likened to one of the sun itself, pearls have dazzled many throughout the ages but the reasoning behind its true allure often escapes the enthralled. Perhaps getting intimate with the whens and hows might kickstart a better understanding of the whys and, ultimately, a deeper appreciation for the pearls.
True blue pearl aficionados would quickly perk up at the sound of freshwater and saltwater pearls, but less so at the mention of gemstones. So recognisable is the pearl as being in a class of its own, many forget that it is, in fact, a type of gemstone; this is just one of the many ways that a pearl is not as well understood as many would think. Off the bat, pearl enthusiasts would answer with a resounding “Akoya, Tahitian, Freshwater and South Sea,” for a question on “the different types of cultivated pearls”. Well, the aforementioned are just four of the most common types.
Types Of Pearls
For about 100 years, the Akoya have grown off the coast of Japan, cultivated for their natural colours and almost always perfectly round shape; otherwise they are baroque (irregular or non-spherical) in shape. They may very well be fancied for the natural colours they come in, however, they do come in gold, silver and blue too. Akoya pearls bring to mind the emblematic strand of white round pearls and are most popular with gemophiles who prize the idea of a classic pearl. Akoya generally ranges in size between 4 to 10 millimetres.
Across the sea to French Polynesia, Tahitian pearl farms bedeck its waters. The only naturally dark pearls and often described as black in colour, these pearls still do come in an exotic rainbow of colours. Hardly ever round they instead come baroque, drop and oval shaped. Ranging from 8 to 15 millimetres Tahitians are a safe bet for accessorizing with most styles thanks to these pearls darker shades; as the cliché goes: black goes well with most styles.
Freshwater pearls are the most affordable pearls out there and the most fashion forward for their unique combinations of shapes and colours and higher availability. They are mostly baroque shaped but also can be found anywhere from round to free-form baroque. For those who prefer softer shades and a milder touch, these pearls are the way to go for their pastel and white colours, as well as, a softer lustre especially in comparison to the Akoya.
Freshwater pearls are commonly 5 to 12 millimetres large but with the advent of new technology, Freshwaters have been known to grow up to 20 millimetres and round; despite earlier claims of them coming mostly baroque shaped. These pearls are produced in Japan, The United States and China – especially man-made lakes and reservoirs in China.
Last but not least, is the South Sea. These pearls are the largest saltwater pearls cultivated today and are considered the crème de la crème of pearls, even earning a recognition as the Rolls Royce of pearls and aptly so for its large size and expensive price tag.
Cultivated mainly in Philippines, Indonesia and Australia these pearls range in colour from white to gold. Noted for their incredible size these range from 8 to 18 millimetres and are hardly round for their large size.
Although round seems to be the flagship shape for a high-quality pearl, South Seas are still considered highly valuable despite their characteristic shapes of drops, baroques and ovals. And for those who like to wear them like they mean it, it might be useful to note that South Seas are indeed the statement piece of jewellery.
Pearl Vendors & Brands
Malaysia has no lack of these beautiful pieces. East Malaysia pinpoints its homemade cache of pearls to Sabah where Borneo pearls are locally grown and harvested. More known locales for Sabah’s pearl farms are in Darvel Bay and Tabawan Island of Lahad Datu. It’s no surprise then that Darvel Bay was a traditional haunt for pirates right up to the 19th century where Japanese pearls can be found. As for the latter, Tabawan has only recently started welcoming the public where it was once heavily safeguarded from steadfast jewel thieves. In Sabah, one can find reasonably priced authentic pearls from local joints like Gaya Street, Sinsuran Complex and the Filipino market. Elsewhere in Malaysia, pearls of all variations can also be purchased in Central Market, Kuala Lumpur.
However, for those who place emphasis on brand recognition and assurance; Borneo Pearl, Edward Kong South Sea Pearl and Shinju Pearls are the local pearl brands to look out for. The first two have made their mark in championing South Sea pearls and local designs (especially Borneo Pearl) and with Edward Kong taking pride in being Malaysia’s pioneer in pearl farming. Founder of Shinju Pearls, Christina Toh’s foray into the jewellery line happened by sheer luck, but also through her love for it. Outlets and boutiques of these brands can be found in major shopping malls, airports and hotels.
Pearls of all origins, cultured or wild, hold a beauty that is subjective. With an array of choices perhaps only their bearers could truly justify with words how special these delicate gemstones truly are. Rather than seeking for the reason behind an undefinable appreciation, we could all treat ourselves by indulging in ownership of a set or two.
Words by Melissa Duis