A Bride's Guide to Pearls

Natural, cultured, or freshwater -- pearls are always in style for brides. Read on for our complete guide to pearls.
by The Knot

Wrap a strand of shiny white pearls around your neck and you can't help but look fabulous -- they're cultured, yet innocent; lavish, yet refined. And they never go out of style. For everything you need to know about buying pearls -- plus tips on choosing the right style for your gown -- read on!

The Big Three

There are basically three kinds of pearls: natural, cultured, and imitation. Natural pearls are formed when a foreign object (usually a grain of sand) enters the body of the oyster -- the oyster protects itself by secreting layers of a substance called nacre around the irritant for two or three years. When the right conditions are present, the result is a beautiful pearl. Cultured pearls are formed with the same process, but humans insert the foreign object into the oyster instead. The oyster does the rest. Imitation pearls are pretty much what the name suggests: artificial. Glass, plastic, and wax are often used to make fake pearls.

The Styles

  • The Choker: One strand worn around the collar is the most classic version and works well with a jewel or bateau neckline. But if too much skin is showing, a choker will get lost.
  • The Collar: Made of three or more strands that fit securely around the neck, this Victorian style looks lovely with a plunging neckline.
  • The Princess: This length falls below the hollow of the throat in front and is the perfect length for adding a pendant.
  • The Matinee: Longer than the Princess but shorter than the Opera, this style hits the top of the bust and looks great with a bateau, jewel, or a lower neckline with sheer fabric covering the decolletage area. But it shouldn't hit the top of the dress or the fullest part of the bust.
  • The Opera: This long single strand falls below the bust and looks simply classic with a jewel or bateau neckline. The only drawback is that it will swing wildly when you dance.
  • The Rope: Hangs below the waist. (Negative dancing factor here too.)

The Origin

  • Akoya pearls (from Japan and China): Classic -- among the most luxurious.
  • South Sea cultured white pearls (from Australia and Indonesia): From semitropical oysters that range in size from 10 to 20 mm; sold for premium prices because of their clarity and large size.
  • South Sea black pearls (from French Malaysia): Command high prices because of their large size and unique color.
  • Freshwater pearls (from Japan, China, and U.S. bays and rivers): Cultivated from freshwater mollusks, many are less lustrous than cultured saltwater pearls. Relatively low-priced, these come in unique shapes and colors.
  • Mabe pearls (from Japan, Indonesia, and Australia): These spherical cultured pearls are grown against the inside of an oyster shell, not in its body. Best worn in earrings or rings, which conceal the flat backs.
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