Gemstones Gemstones and Birthstones

Are pearls classed as a gemstone? 

Are pearls classed as a gemstone? 

Unlike other gemstones, pearls have unique characteristics, which often leads to the question: Do pearls class as a gemstone? The answer is yes. But let’s get into why they are classed as a gemstone, and how their characteristics sets them apart from other gems.  

Pearl’s characteristics  

Natural pearls are organic gems, created within the soft tissue of a living shelled mollusk, such as an oyster or a mussel. They form when an irritant, such as a tiny stone or a parasite, enters the mollusk. In response, the creature coats the irritant with layers of aragonite and conchiolin, substances that also make up its shell. This process results in the creation of a pearl. Pearls are stereotypically white or cream, iridescent balls, but due to their organic nature, can vary wildly in shape and colour. 

This is the main fact that sets pearls apart from other gemstones, and is why people are often confused about whether or not pearls are gems at all. Unlike gemstones that are mined from the earth, such as diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, pearls are harvested from water bodies, making them the only gem derived from a living organism. This unique origin sets pearls apart from other gemstones. 

Why are pearls classed as gemstones? 

Despite their organic origins that set them apart from ‘traditional’ stones, pearls are classified as gemstones for several reasons: 

Rarity and value 

Like traditional gemstones, natural pearls are rare and valuable. Before pearl farming existed, pearls were exceedingly rare, found in only one of every several thousand wild oysters. This rarity, combined with their beauty, made pearls highly prized. 

Use in jewellery 

Pearls have been used in jewellery for many years, valued for their natural beauty and natural lustre. They are often set in necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets, much like other gemstones.  

Mass appeal 

The allure of pearls comes from their gentle, reflective lustre, known as nacre, which gives them a soft, glowing appearance unlike any mineral-based gemstone. This unique beauty adds to their gemstone status. 

Symbolism and cultural significance 

Throughout history, pearls have carried significant symbolism, including purity, wisdom, wealth, and serenity. This cultural significance of the pearl mirrors that of many traditional gemstones, further cementing pearls’ place in the gemstone category. 

The distinction between pearls and other gemstones 

While pearls are classified as gemstones due to their beauty, rarity, and value, it’s important to note their distinct differences. The organic nature of pearls means they require different care and handling compared to mineral gemstones; they are softer, more vulnerable to chemicals and extreme temperatures, and can lose their lustre if not properly maintained. Pearls are usually not suitable for constant, daily wear.  

Additionally, unlike other gemstones, the popularity of pearl farming has made high-quality pearls more accessible, though natural pearls remain rare and highly sought after. 

More questions about pearls? 

Pearls indeed class as a gemstone, standing out from traditional gemstones with their unique organic origins. But if you have any other questions about pearls or gemstones, feel free to get in touch with our team, who would love to help. Decided you’d like to add a pearl piece to your jewellery wardrobe? Shop all our beautiful pearl jewellery pieces, here.