The World is Your Oyster: Discover the World of Pearls

by Kat Cadegan April 29, 2024 5 min read

The World is Your Oyster: Discover the World of Pearls

Both classic and contemporary at once, pearls are a timeless choice for jewelry of all kinds. Made of a naturally-occurring, semi-precious material called “nacre” (pronounced NAY-kur), pearls come from humble beginnings. We all know that pearls come from oysters, and the story goes that they start from a single grain of sand that makes its way inside a shell. While this isn’t exactly true — most pearls begin as an organic parasite or bacteria that infect the oyster by burrowing through their tough outer shells — it is true that with time and a little luck, a pearl is formed from what essentially begins as nothing.
With nature’s inspiration behind everything we do here at Kat Cadegan Jewellery, pearls are one of our all-time favorite materials to work with and wear at the shop. These tiny miracles are as one-of-a-kind as you and I. Read along as we share all about these rare aquatic beauties!

How Are Pearls Formed?

Marine oysters, freshwater mussels, and some species of clams all have one thing in common: a hinged, bivalve construction and a lustrous, durable inner lining called “nacre.” This shiny, pastel-colored layer is secreted by a part of the animal body called the mantle. It is this same substance from which pearls are formed in response to irritation caused by the invasion of the animal by a foreign substance, or a small bead placed there by a farmer in cultured pearl production.
In the pearl world, there are many criteria for classification. We’ll start by looking at one you may have heard before: “natural” vs. “cultured” pearls.

Natural Pearls

Natural pearls are incredibly rare, occurring in only 1 in 10,000 animals. Of these, a very small percentage are of a desirable size, luster, and shape preferred by the jewelry industry. Because of their rarity, natural pearls account for less than 1% of all available pearls on the gem market and are expensive and difficult to source as a result.
Fun fact: the average appraised value of pearls found by restaurant-goers on their dinner plates is $200-400!

Cultured Pearls

With less than 1% of all pearls occurring naturally, where does that other 99% come from?
Cultured, or “farmed” pearls, occur in both freshwater and saltwater environments. The process varies slightly from farm to farm, but generally looks like this: a small glass or mother-of-pearl bead with a piece of mantle attached to it is carefully surgically inserted into a mature oyster. This triggers the animal to respond as it would to a naturally-occurring invasion by secreting layer after layer of shiny, durable nacre over the bead. This process is allowed to continue for a period of 6 months to up to 4 years, until the desired size and shape of pearl has been obtained. Not all cultured oysters will yield pearls, and not all of the cultured pearls will be the same. Farmers can influence some aspects of the pearls grown, such as their shape, by “seeding” the animals in a specific way, but just like in nature, the final outcomes of the harvest are up to the oyster, mussel, or clam that grows the pearl. Cultured pearls come at a more accessible price range than their natural counterparts, though there is still a great deal of labor and time involved in their production.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the special properties to look for and consider when buying your pearls.


The main shapes we see in pearls, both natural and cultured, are as follows:

  • Baroque Pearls — Our personal favorites to work with at Kat Cadegan Jewellery, baroque pearls offer truly unique, organic beauty. They can have distinct features such as knobs, dips, and circles, which some would consider irregularities, but we consider character. The most commonly occurring shape group in both the cultured & natural pearl harvest, baroque pearls offer texture and a heightened luster due to an uneven distribution of nacre on the pearl’s surfaces. Some baroque pearls are flatter in shape, like those featured in our Estee and Yara earrings, teardrop-shaped like our Bella Donna styles, and some are large “fireball” shaped free-form pearls like our Nori earrings.
  • Round — The rarest and most traditionally coveted of all the pearl morphologies, round pearls are a tried-and-true classic. A 16” string of perfectly round cultured pearls can fetch a price tag upwards of $1000.
  • Near-Round or Off-Round — These pearls offer the symmetrical style of perfectly round pearls, but at a lower price point than their true round counterparts. They are usually slightly oval or egg-shaped upon close inspection.
  • Button Pearls — As their name suggests, these pearls are round on top and flat on the bottom. They make excellent stud earrings as they sit flush to the earlobe.
  • Drop-Shape — A favorite for dangly earrings, or single pearl pendants, these pearls are teardrop-shaped and hang nicely due to their bottom-heavy shape.
    Some pearl merchants and jewelers suggest round or teardrop-shaped pearls for those with symmetrical, delicate features, while the more irregular baroque styles are regarded as more complimentary for those with a more exaggerated, unique look. We say wear whatever speaks to your heart!


Pearls come in many different natural hues. They range from pure whites, to ivory and warm-whites, yellows, peachy-pinks, and plum. Pearls will reflect the same color as the nacre of the shell of the animal they originate from. Pearls can also be treated to black or grey, and then dyed to virtually any desired shade of the rainbow. At Kat Cadegan, we source and work with pearls in classic shades of white.


“Luster” refers to that signature, soft inner glow that pearls are famous for. It is technically a measure of the rate of light reflecting off the pearl’s surface and is influenced by many factors such as shape, size, origin, and species. There is a spectrum for lustre, ranging from Excellent, Very High, High, Medium to Poor. The qualifications vary slightly across different pearl types from different regions — for example, saltwater pearls will typically have a crisper, clearer lustre, where freshwater pearls tend to have a softer, hazier appearance.

Styling Pearls

Pearls are a versatile staple for both everyday wear and for special occasions. Pearl earrings of all shapes and sizes give a touch of elegance and sophistication to any look. At Kat Cadegan Jewellery, we focus on the more organic baroque and teardrop shapes and offer a variety of sizes to suit every taste. In soft neutral shades of white, our pearls pair beautifully with both silver and gold, which is why we’ve created pearl collections in both metals. Pearl is also one of June’s birthstones, so keep them in mind for the June babies in your life.
If you’re still skeptical, trust us — these are not your Grandma’s pearls! A forever classic synonymous with names such as Anne Taylor, Julia Child, and Coco Chanel, we’re still seeing pearls worn in fresh new ways on runways and famous faces today. Even Harry Styles has been sighted sporting a string of baroque pearls on and off the red carpet.
Whether you’re a longtime wearer, or you’re just testing the waters, our pearlsare a timeless addition to your jewelry collection.

Sources Consulted:

Kaitlin, April 2024