Many people ask the question, “What is the difference between a fresh and saltwater pearl”? The main difference is the body of water the mollusk is living in (saltwater oceans vs. freshwater lakes). Another difference is that a freshwater mollusk will produce 9-11 pearls over the course of its lifetime. A saltwater produces only 1-3.
Saltwater pearls are more costly than freshwater pearls because they take years longer to form than a freshwater pearl and because of their smaller production quantity. Freshwater pearls can come in more diverse shapes with various blemishes.
Because pearls are a “water-gem” they are already a softer gem than the semi-precious and precious stones such as diamonds (hardest) rubies and emeralds. Freshwater pearls are also softer than saltwater pearls and will be more sensitive to showing lines and scratches. Freshwater pearls are traditionally semi-round or spherical. However, current culturing techniques have brought more freshwater pearls closer to those same round qualities found in saltwater pearls at a lesser cost. Both salt and freshwater pearls will come in various shapes, the most common being round or teardrop. Saltwater pearls will traditionally have a higher luster value (shine) to them compared to most freshwater although a high-grade freshwater pearl will look very similar to some saltwater pearls.
Other Varieties Black pearls, or Tahitian Pearls are cultured exclusively in the Pinctada Margaritifera, a mollusk native to the South Sea Ocean around Tahiti and the Cook Islands. Tahitian Pearls can have a lot of variation from pearl to pearl. Round and semi-round pearls are highly sought after. Tahitian Pearls come in colors such as peacock, golds, grays and of course, black.