When people talk about pearls starting as a grain of sand, it is not quite true. It is more like a parasite. So, a mollusk will get this bug inside of them, but does have the means to kill it. The only way to protect itself is to secrete “nacre” to coat it, which is the basis of a pearl.
At Linn and Owen, we stock Akoya saltwater and freshwater cultured pearls. Saltwater pearls are generally much more desirable looking and that is reflected in price.
About a dozen years ago, when the higher quality Chinese freshwater cultured pearls came on the market, my Akoya saltwater cultured pearl earrings stopped selling rather abruptly. I began asking people who were looking at the earrings but were not showing much interest, “Why the reluctance?”
The result was across the board: other places were a lot cheaper. The reason? They were offering freshwater cultured pearls, but not telling. My solution? I bought an identical size assortment of high quality freshwater pearls, which are half the price, and displayed them side by side. Now, Akoya outsells freshwater about ten to one when you have the opportunity to see the difference in quality.