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A Guide to Pearl: Meaning, Properties and Everyday Uses

Written by: Jessica Kramer



Time to read 10 min



The pearl is a luminous gem formed within the shells of certain mollusks. Unlike most other gemstones which originate in mines, natural pearls occur by chance in the ocean. For this reason, they have captivated humankind across cultures for millennia as objects of intrigue, adornment and wealth. 

The rarest and most valuable pearls are natural pearls, created when an irritant becomes lodged inside an oyster, mussel, or clam. As a defense mechanism, the mollusk secretes chemicals like nacre and conchiolin to isolate the irritant. Layer upon layer of nacre coats the irritant, eventually forming a lustrous pearl. This organic process makes each natural pearl truly one-of-a-kind.

Because of their rarity and mystique, pearls have maintained high status among gemstones throughout history. They were coveted by ancient Chinese nobles and Egyptian pharaohs. In the Roman Empire, pearls were viewed as the ultimate symbol of privilege and wealth. During the Renaissance, European royalty sought extravagant pearl jewelry to flaunt their affluence. Today, pearls retain their allure as timeless gems, exuding elegance and sophistication.

Formation and Types

Pearls are formed when a foreign object, like a piece of sand, gets stuck in the soft tissue of certain mollusks, typically oysters or mussels. As a natural defense, the mollusk secretes a fluid called nacre to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of nacre coats the object, eventually forming a lustrous pearl. This organic process takes several years to produce natural pearls.

There are three main types of pearls:

Natural Pearls

Natural pearls form randomly in nature when a mollusk naturally takes in an irritant. They are extremely rare, which makes them very valuable. Natural pearls exhibit the unique imperfections of their organic origins like irregular shapes and a variety of colors. 

Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls are produced through a controlled process. A mollusk farmer surgically implants an irritant into the mollusk to induce nacre secretion. The shape and size of cultured pearls can be customized, but their organic layering process gives them a similar lustrous beauty to natural pearls. 

Imitation Pearls

Imitation or fake pearls are man-made to resemble real pearls. Glass beads are coated in pearl powder lacquer and designed to look like pearls. Imitation pearls lack the smooth, luxurious feel and iridescence of genuine pearls. They are a low-cost alternative but lack the natural beauty and value of real pearls.

Pearl crystal

Physical Properties

Pearls have a uniquely soft iridescent luster that ranges from glossy to satiny depending on the type of pearl. Their colors can be white, black, gray, yellow, green, blue, pink or brown. Akoya pearls are known for their pinkish white to silver color while South Sea and Tahitian pearls exhibit richer gold, cream and black hues. 

The shape of cultured pearls depends on the species and environment, but they are generally spherical or near-spherical. However, baroque and other irregular shapes can also form naturally. On average, akoya pearls range from 3mm to 10mm while South Sea pearls are larger at around 13mm to 20mm.

With a density of 2.71 and hardness between 2.5 and 4.5 on the Mohs scale, pearls are relatively soft compared to other gems. Their refractive index is 1.53 to 1.69. While sensitive to acids, heat and some cosmetics, pearls are fairly durable for normal wear if cared for properly. To maintain their luster, pearls should be wiped gently with a soft cloth after wearing and protected from harsh chemicals, extreme temperature changes and impacts. Storing them separately from harder gemstones also minimizes scratches.

Spiritual Meaning

The pearl has long been associated with purity, integrity, and sincerity throughout history and across cultures. In Ancient Greece, pearls symbolized innocence and modesty. In Chinese tradition, they are linked to wisdom. In Christianity, pearls represent faith.

Pearls are strongly connected to the moon and feminine energy. Their white hue evokes the moon's soft glow, while the ocean's tides that nurture the oysters mirror the cyclical nature of the lunar phases. Pearls have thus been seen as magical, powerful talismans for women. Many ancient folk remedies called for pearl powder to treat women's reproductive issues. 

As a gem born from the sea, the pearl also embodies the fluid emotional wisdom of the subconscious mind. They represent hidden knowledge and intuition that surfaces from deep within. Pearls teach us to value and listen to our inner voice for truth and understanding.

Wearing or meditating with pearls can help amplify wisdom, clarity, and integrity within us. Their soothing energy brings focus and mindfulness, filtering out negativity or uncertainty. Pearls remind us to pursue truth and meaning in all aspects of life.

Black Pearl

Healing Properties

Pearls are known for their calming and stabilizing effects, which can relieve anxiety, worry, and stress. The soothing energy of pearls is said to create inner peace and balance emotions. 

  • Calms and balances the heart, reducing anger, irritation, and impatience. Believed to help treat heart palpitations and high blood pressure.
  • Alleviates stomach upset. Pearls can relieve acidity and absorb toxins. They are thought to aid digestion and relieve ulcer pain.
  • Promotes restful, uninterrupted sleep for those suffering from insomnia. Radiates a peaceful vibration to relax the mind.
  • Encourages self-love, acceptance, and care. Helps build confidence and reduce self-criticism or destructive inner dialogues.
  • Attracts nurturing relationships rooted in wisdom, empathy, and compassion. Dispels negativity to encourage loving communication. 
  • Supports emotional healing from past wounds or trauma. Gently releases painful memories and negative attachments.

The soothing energy of pearls has a therapeutic effect on the mind and body. They are the perfect ally when facing anxiety, grief, heartache, or nervous exhaustion. Pearls reconnect us to inner peace, harmony, and lasting contentment.

Everyday Uses

Pearls are not just for formal occasions and special events. Their delicate beauty can be incorporated into daily life in various creative ways:

Pearl Jewelry Styles

  • Simplicity is key when wearing pearls for everyday. Opt for studs, small drop earrings, pendant or lariat necklaces, and single strand bracelets.
  • Mix pearls with metals like yellow or rose gold for a more casual, youthful look. 
  • Layer pearl necklaces or bracelets of varying lengths for visual interest.
  • Combine pearls with other natural stones like turquoise, coral, or lapis lazuli for an organic, bohemian style.

Home Decor Accents 

  • Display pearl shell candles or vases to bring an elegant touch to any space.
  • Frame vintage pearl print artwork or botanical drawings for a romantic aesthetic.
  • Add luminescent pearl wall sconces or table lamps for soft, ambient lighting. 
  • Incorporate pearl embellished throw pillows, mirrors or jewelry boxes as charming accents.

Bridal and Special Occasions

  • Pearls are a timeless choice for bridal jewelry and hair accessories. Opt for dainty single or multi-strand necklaces, stud or drop earrings, tennis bracelets, hairpins and tiaras.
  • For bridesmaids, consider versatile pearl pendant necklaces or pearl accented clutches. 
  • Grooms can wear pearl cufflinks or tie bars for a refined, polished look.
  • Pearls also make meaningful christening or birthday gifts to celebrate precious moments.
Black Pearl

Care and Cleansing

Pearls require some special care to keep them looking their radiant best. Here are some tips for proper storage, cleaning, charging, and protection:

Proper Storage

  • Store pearls in a soft cloth pouch or jewelry box, away from other gemstones and metals. Pearls are relatively soft and can be easily scratched.
  • Keep them separated in compartmentalized storage. Friction from contact with other jewelry can dull their luster.  
  • Avoid letting them rub against each other. The pearl's nacre coating can get worn down over time with excessive friction.
  • Store pearls in a cool, dry place away from heat and humidity. Moisture can corrode the nacre and fade their color.

Cleaning Methods

  • Gently wipe pearls with a soft damp cloth to remove dirt and body oils. Do not immerse in water or use jewelry cleaner.
  • For a deeper clean, mix a mild soap with water and use a very soft brush to gently scrub. Rinse off soap residue.  
  • Avoid ultrasonic and steam cleaners as they can damage the nacre layer.

Charging Under Moonlight

  • Like many gemstones, pearls can be energetically cleansed and recharged by moonlight. 
  • Place them on a windowsill or outdoors overnight under a full or waning moon. This is said to purify and amplify their healing energy.
  • Always check for morning dew before wearing or storing after moon bathing. Let them fully dry to avoid moisture damage.

Protection from Damage

  • Take pearls off before showering, swimming, or doing household chores. Water and chemicals can erode nacre.
  • Store separately from other jewelry to prevent scratches and chips.
  • Avoid exposing them to harsh chemicals like bleach, acids, or perfumes that can corrode surface.
  • Prevent cosmetics, hair spray, and lotions from accumulating on pearls. These can leave a cloudy buildup.
  • Knot pearl necklaces before storing to minimize friction and prevent tangling.
  • Get pearls professionally restrung every few years to maintain their luster.

Buying Guide

When shopping for pearls, it's important to have a basic understanding of quality grading factors, the differences between natural and cultured pearls, and how to spot fake or synthetic pearls. This ensures you select the best and most authentic pearls for your budget and needs.

Quality Grading Factors

Several key factors determine the quality and value of a pearl:

  • Size - Measured in millimeters. Larger pearls above 9-10mm are more rare and valuable. 
  • Shape - Symmetrical, rounder shapes are ideal. Baroque and oval shapes are also popular, and our favorite here at HAWKHOUSE.
  • Surface - The smoother and more blemish-free the surface, the better the quality. Some minor surface flaws are expected.
  • Luster - High quality pearls have a bright, mirror-like luster. Dull, chalky luster indicates lower quality.
  • Color - Whiter colors are generally more valuable, but rose, gold, blue, and black pearls also exist. 
  • Nacre Thickness - Thicker nacre (interior coating) increases durability and value.

High AAA grade pearls will excel across all factors. Lower alphabetic grades like A, B, and C fall short on one or more grading criteria.

Natural vs Cultured 

  • Natural pearls form when an irritant gets lodged in an oyster. They are extremely rare and expensive.
  • Cultured pearls are artificially induced by implanting an irritant into oysters. They represent the vast majority of market supply.

Cultured pearls can deliver excellent quality at a fraction of the cost of natural pearls. Unless authenticated, assume pearls are cultured.

Spotting Fakes

  • Real pearls feel cool and smooth. Fakes feel plastic-like or have obvious mold lines.
  • Gently rub the pearl against your teeth. Fake pearls feel smooth while real pearls feel gritty.
  • Examine drill holes to ensure they are clean and tapered. Fake drill holes will be messy or perfectly circular.
  • Quality pearls won't have an entirely smooth surface. Subtle imperfections indicate authenticity. 
  • High quality, real pearls cannot be bought at extremely cheap bargain prices. Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.

Purchase from reputable jewelers and ask for authentication to avoid fakes. With knowledge and care, you can find beautiful, real pearls to treasure.

Famous Pearls 

Pearls have a rich history, with some of the most famous gems being natural saltwater pearls. These rare organic gems were highly prized for their extraordinary size, quality, history and value.

La Peregrina 

One of the most renowned pearls is La Peregrina, meaning "the wanderer" or "pilgrim” in Spanish. This large drop-shaped natural pearl weighs over 55 carats and measures approximately 0.7 inches long. It was discovered by an African slave in the Gulf of Panama during the 16th century. La Peregrina was a treasured possession of many European royals, including Mary I of England and Spanish royalty. Richard Burton purchased it in 1969 for his wife Elizabeth Taylor, who wore the pearl frequently. After changing hands through auctions, La Peregrina remains one of the most iconic pearls today.

The Pearl of Asia

Discovered in the early 20th century, the Pearl of Asia is one of the largest natural pearls ever found, weighing 6.4 pounds. While most natural pearls form within oysters, this specimen was created in a giant clam found off the Philippine coast. Valued at over $93 million, the Pearl of Asia's perfectly spherical shape and white color make it exceptionally rare and desirable. It was last sold at auction to an anonymous buyer.

Pearl of Lao Tzu

The Pearl of Lao Tzu weighs over 6 ounces and is considered the largest pearl found in Chinese waters. It was discovered by a Taiwanese fisherman in the 1980s before being acquired at auction by a group of Gemstone Kings in 1997. This pearl is valued at $35 million for its unprecedented size, round shape, and milky white luster. Many believe it to be over 2,500 years old. The Pearl of Lao Tzu represents the ancient Chinese legend of the philosopher Lao Tzu transforming into a pearl.


Pearls have captivated humanity across cultures for centuries with their breathtaking natural beauty and rarity. Formed by oysters and mussels as a defense mechanism, natural pearls are organic gems that develop without human intervention. Their iridescent nacre gives them an unrivaled luminous allure. While available in various colors, white and cream are the most prized for their classically elegant appeal. 

Beyond external beauty, pearls symbolize many virtues in mythology and folklore. They represent wisdom, purity, integrity, and new beginnings. In Hinduism, pearls are associated with the moon, feminine energy, and spiritual enlightenment. Christians saw them as emblematic of Christ's perfection. The Chinese associated them with prosperity and success. Pearls have also signified tears, the soul, the ocean's life-giving power, and more. Their cosmic symbolism remains relevant today.

With their cooling energy and connection to water, pearls are believed to have therapeutic benefits. They are said to calm nerves, harmonize emotions, amplify wisdom, stimulate imagination, and boost self-esteem. Some claim they have detoxifying effects and can aid stomach, fertility, and skin conditions when used in elixirs and topical applications. They are also prized in crystal healing practices. 

Pearls can uplift your spirit when worn as jewelry or displayed in your home or office. They promote inner growth, confidence, success, and fulfillment when contemplated or handled with intention. Their enduring mystique and allure ensure natural pearls will remain prized treasures for all who appreciate their unique splendor. Their rare beauty eternally evokes the wonders of the sea and nature's creative power.