What To Look For When Buying Freshwater Pearls / A Definitive Guide To Freshwater Pearls

Think chic and timeless, think pearls! As far back as history has it, pearls have been a symbol of class, beauty and sophistication.

They are feminine, fresh (formed from mother nature) and forever fit for a queen (with both Queen Elizabeth and Audrey Hepburn big fans). 

Yet sophistication aside, how much do you what really know about pearls?

Could you tell the difference between freshwater and saltwater pearls? Or distinguish the difference between keshi, coin, baroque or round? Probs not?

Then don’t worry, we’ve got you girl! For a ‘fresh’ overview, we’ve curated a Francesca guide to freshwater pearls, covering everything from the shapes, to the colours, to the size and how they are derived to help you learn what’s fresh and hot from what’s not! 

Ready to get cultured?! 


The Francesca guide to freshwater pearls

Presume all pearls are round and white? Think again! Just like humans, when it comes to freshwater pearls, they too come in all shapes and sizes (and colours)! But first, let’s get familiar with what ‘freshwater’ pearls versus other types of pearls are.

Freshwater pearls are, as the name suggests, pearls derived from fresh water sources such as lakes, rivers and ponds and are found in mussels that inhabit those specific aquaculture locations.

Generally speaking, freshwater pearls are almost all ‘cultured’ as they are grown from real oysters or mussels on a pearl farm (most often in Japan, Australia, Indonesia, China). While ‘wild’ or ‘natural’ seawater pearls exist too, they are much rarer and said to be discovered by shellfish harvesters at a rate of roughly one pearl for every 10,000 oysters.

In the jewellery world though, labels for pearls can get confusing, with some calling ‘freshwater pearls’ just ‘cultured pearls’ and akoya pearls ‘saltwater’ or ‘natural pearls.’ Essentially though, it’s all down to where they are sourced or grown. Freshwater pearls are cultivated in pearl farms hence being ‘cultured pearls’, while saltwater or akoya are known as ‘wild’ or ‘natural’ pearls.

Within freshwater, there are three main shapes we’re fans of. Check out our overview below.

  1. keshi pearls

Considered the most ‘natural’ and free form of all pearls, Keshi pearls are celebrated for their pure, raw state and are left the way they are cultured, not compromising texture, form or lustre. The word ‘keshi’ comes from the Japanese word ‘poppy seed’ but is considered to resemble more of a rice crisp shape. 

A pearl celebrated for its organic nature and imperfect form, Keshi pearls are now considered highly valuable and beautiful yet despite not long ago being seen as ‘imperfect’ and often being thrown back into sea.

With their uniqueness a special part of their allure, Keshi pearls make the perfect present for someone who prefers to celebrate imperfect beauty. At Francesca, we’re currently obsessed with Keshi pearls so head to our store to find everything from keshi studs to drop earrings (such as our Harlo pearl earrings) and charms that are both lust and lustre worthy.

2.coin pearls

Completely opposite to the free form, ‘go with the flow’ nature of Keshi pearls, ‘Coin pearls’ are pure circular perfection. In the very same way coins are created to be perfectly round in surface and shape, so too are coin freshwater pearls.

While classic pearls tend to manifest in a spherical 3D variety, coin pearls are flat and have a high lustre, providing a perfect surface for those wanting a pearl that sits against the skin - be it in necklace, stud or bracelet form.

To achieve the 360 degree shape, pearl farmers implant a coin or disc into the mollusk and have to wait for several months or years before the coin pearl takes shape in its most perfect form. So while they are of man-made influence, it is also considered an incredible art, as the timing of harvesting the coin pearl has to be incredibly precise, otherwise it can lead to a visible nucleus or a baroque, non-symmetrical shape and essentially renders the coin pearl redundant and unsellable.

And with sustainability so important now, the same no waste rule should apply when it comes to jewellery too. At Francesca, we like to source, salvage and cultivate the most beautiful coin pearls to bring our customers the best and most aesthetic pearls possible, so for those looking for a little more ‘coin’ (see what we did there?!) we would definitely recommend checking out our beautiful coin charms (available in all three metals - gold, rose gold and silver). 

  1. round pearls

Arguably the most popular and sought after of all freshwater pearls are of course ‘round pearls.’ 

The most classic shape you can get, round pearls need no introduction, they are the most common type associated with pearl jewellery and also tend to be the most versatile when it comes to fashion.

As a general rule of thumb, round pearls that are perfect are considered quite rare and expensive as they have to be extracted at the right moment from a mollusc if left too long, they shift into an irregular shape, losing their beauty and value.

Colour wise, round freshwater pearls often come in a white or cream variation, but like anything, variations can be found (from blush pink to apricot) however if you want a natural freshwater pearl that isn’t altered it will likely be an ivory shade. Note: black round pearls also exist but are not freshwater and instead come from the sea or are artificially dyed. 

For women wanting a ‘classic, chic and timeless’ pearl piece or set, you can’t go past round pearls. At Francesca, round is kind of our thing! Which means you can get every style possible - from studs and drop earrings, to bracelets and beautiful singular pearl drop necklaces and charms, the world really is your oyster ;) 

Ahead of purchasing your perfect pearl piece or set, read on for a few helpful tips to help you make the most chic choice and decipher the real freshwater pearls from the fakes!

  1. look for imperfections
    Sounds strange we know, but the truth is, real pearls are imperfectly perfect, so to suss the frauds from the take a look close up, notice if there are any bumps or ridges on the surface, any specks of imperfection or irregularities and take note. Unless you’re spending a fortune, the pearl is likely to not look or be perfect.

  2. take a tooth test
    Obviously this one will depend on where you are and if it’s socially acceptable to do, but, in saying that, if you’re serious about sussing your real freshwater pearls from fakes, then taking a tooth test is considered a good way to feel it out.

    To do it, simply rub the pearl over your teeth and if it feels gritty it’s real, if it feels smooth, then it’s likely a fake! 

  1. hold for heaviness - Place the pearl in your hand and see how heavy it is. If it’s a real freshwater pearl, it’ll be heavier than a fake plastic or resin pearl.


Fully up-to-date with freshwater pearls now and ready to Franc-ify your pearl collection? Check out our full pearl range here and for further info on pearls, see a further freshwater pearl guide on Pearls Only.

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