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To outsiders the language of pearls –pearl terminology to be technical– can sometimes seem like a completely different language. But, confusing as some of these terms –overtone for instance– can sometimes seem to outsiders, the language of pearls –the terminology of pearls– is actually meant to reduce confusion. In reality understanding the basic difference between a “baroque” pearl and a keshi pearl is no more complex than understanding the basic differences between a car and a truck.
circle: Most common in salt water pearls, particularly “Tahitian” circle refers to growth lines that circle the body of a pearl and keep it from being entirely smooth or round. The Tahitian pearls pictured here are circle pearls.
lustre: Quite simply lustre is the surface glow of a pearl. High lustre saltwater pearls from Japan –where the water is relatively cold— can have a near mirror bright lustre. South Sea and Freshwater pearls from warmer locales can have a soft lustre reminiscent of the moon on a foggy night.
baroque: Baroque is an old term in the world of pearls that long predates pearl culturing. Baroque is a loose category that describes all non-symmetrical pearl shapes.
nacre: nacre refers to the fine layers of calcium carbonate a mollusk –usually either an oyster or mussel— deposits over a nucleus. Ideally thicker nacre results in better lustre. (However, often very thin nacre results in gorgeous lustre, sadly pearls with thin nacre generally don’t stand up to wear well. We always avoid pearls with thin nacre regardless of the quality of the lustre.)
orient: In the world of pearls “orient” isn’t a place, or a direction, instead it is the iridescent multi-colored shimmer some pearls display. Tahitian “peacock” pearls are famous for a characteristic green and purple orient.
cultured: Strictly speaking a “cultured pearl” is a pearl created with the intervention of humans. Basically cultured pearls are farm raised pearls. Modern pearl farming techniques developed in Japan near the end of the 19th century but today unique pearl farming techniques exist in Japan, China, the Philippines, Tahiti and Australia. Today there are both saltwater and freshwater pearl farming operations. If you want to learn more about “fancy colored” cultured freshwater pearls we recommend this blog post.