When it comes to eye-catching elegance, both pearls and diamonds are treasured by jewelers, artists and jewelry enthusiasts alike. For a beloved heirloom or a stunning engagement ring, either option could make the ideal centerpiece. The hardest part? Deciding between the two.
That’s why we’ve created a guide for understanding the difference between diamonds and pearls.
Let’s explore the history, physical differences, and the pros and cons associated with pearls and diamonds. We’re here to provide a full perspective to ensure your next purchase exceeds your expectations. When comparing pearls vs. diamonds, it’s ultimately about your tastes and preferences, so read on to find out everything you need to choose the perfect jewelry piece.
Where Do Pearls and Diamonds Come From?
The origins of diamonds and pearls couldn’t be more different. Though they’re both precious and long-admired jewelry pieces, you’ll find they both have unique histories.
From the ancient Greeks to Egyptian pharaohs, pearls have a centuries-long history in cultures all around the world. Mentions of pearl jewelry can be found in several ancient texts—they’ve even been referenced in historical documents from China dating back thousands of years.
While shining gems and sparkling stones are typically formed geologically, pearls are created by mollusks, including:
- Freshwater mussels – Found in rivers, lakes and ponds, freshwater mussels are the most common way to locate a pearl from an inland water source.
- Saltwater oysters – Saltwater oysters can be found on sand ocean beaches, in saltwater marshes or along rocky shores.
Pearls are formed as a defense mechanism against irritant materials. Some mussels or oysters will release nacre, a shiny opalescent substance, as a means of combating parasites or sand grains that have entered their shells. This process can take years—finding a natural pearl is an increasingly difficult process.
In the late 1800s, Kokichi Mikimoto, a Japanese entrepreneur, created the first cultured pearl. By replicating the natural process, Mikimoto was able to create pearls on demand. Over the next several decades, hundreds of pearl farms were built across Japan, lowering the price of pearls and causing massive change throughout the pearl industry.
Key benefits regarding cultivated pearl production include:
- Indistinguishable from “natural pearls” – Cultivated pearls are, in all senses of the word, “natural.” The mollusk goes through the same natural process to create cultivated pearls, and the result is a pearl that is physically indistinguishable from pearls found in the wild.
- Significantly less expensive – For centuries the price of pearls had remained remarkably high. Only wealthy nobles, royalty and aristocrats were able to afford pearls until cultivation was invented. Following Mikimoto’s technological advancements, pearls became accessible to millions and, by the mid-20th century, pearls were an affordable luxury for people across the globe.
- Found throughout the world – Today, pearls are farmed and found in several countries, many specializing in a particular variation of pearls. Whether uniquely shaped or colorful, pearls have retained their position as one of the world’s most beautiful gems, and they remain popular worldwide.
While cultured pearls are natural pearls, they can be confused with imitation/fake ones, determining how to tell if pearls are real can feel difficult.
Diamonds have been a sight of value and wealth for nearly two thousand years. Historians estimate diamonds were traded as long ago as 4 BC, first becoming popular in India where these sparkling gems were found along the banks of major rivers.
Naturally formed within the earth over millennia, diamonds are found in natural deposits deep below the earth’s surface. To bring these natural diamonds to the surface requires extensive mining, and in the late 19th century, the De Beers company began mining operations in South Africa.
Nowadays, there are new options for consumers seeking diamonds. Thanks to innovative technology, you’ll find several options for ethically-sourced and quality diamonds and alternatives to mined diamonds including:
- Lab-grown diamonds – Chemically identical to mined diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are a modern scientific marvel. Through a highly complex scientific process, diamond labs can recreate the natural process of diamond formation, creating a gorgeous, carbon-accurate diamond.
- Diamond simulants – Improving on perfection is never easy. Today, diamond alternatives offer the same look and feel as traditional diamonds, using man-made materials that can replicate nearly every aspect of a mined diamond.
Consumers interested in a high-quality product that avoids the messy history of the diamond industry may find lab-grown diamonds, diamond simulants, or moissanite to be the perfect option for their next jewelry purchase. These options eliminate the deep environmental and ethical costs of mined, natural diamonds while retaining the beauty and elegance of these beloved gems.
What Are The Physical Differences Between Pearls and Diamonds?
Uncertain about the physical properties and look of the gems? Consider the following aspects of pearl and diamond appearances.
Whether found in the ocean or cultivated in freshwater, pearls are typically identifiable by the following properties:
- Pearlescence – The shimmering luster of pearls, referred to as pearlescence, is likely the first quality you’ll notice. The nature nacre refracts light, creating an iridescent glow.
- Opaque – Don’t expect to look through a pearl; these gems are completely opaque and won’t let light through.
- Color – Pearls are often prized for their dazzling color. While the standard white pearl color has remained popular, there are several other pearl colors—everything from yellow to blue—to explore. Colored pearls are typically rarer and more sought after than standard-colored pearls.
- Shape – Perfectly spherical pearls are certainly prized as the perfect addition to a ring, bracelet or necklace. That said, irregularly-shaped pearls, known as “baroque pearls,” have come into fashion as well, and may be considered more unique or interesting to some consumers and jewelry designers.
Shimmering, shining and highly reflective, diamonds are unmistakable. Diamonds are widely known for their physical beauty, but it may be worthwhile to explore the 4Cs, the four key ways of defining a diamond’s appearance:
- Cut – Depending on the process of manufacturing, a diamond may be cut too shallow or too deep for a proper fitting. The highest quality diamonds are considered Ideal Cut, meaning they hold the proper shape. Additionally, it’s important to remember that diamonds come in several cut styles, including emerald, round and oval.
- Color – The standard diamond color is a perfect translucence—like glass or ice, two common nicknames for diamonds. High-quality diamonds are colorless, while less-perfect stones may have a yellowish tint.
- Carat – Diamonds are measured in carats. A carat refers to ⅕ of a gram, meaning the higher the carat of a diamond, the heavier and larger the stone.
- Clarity – The clarity of a diamond will vary depending on the absence or presence of blemishes and imperfections. They’re often graded by gemologists on a scale ranging from flawless (without blemishes) to included (containing obvious blemishes under magnification).
Engagements Rings: Pros and Cons of Pearls and Diamonds
If you’ve got a proposal on the horizon, you may be debating whether diamonds or pearls are the right fit for the occasion.
There’s no doubt about it—either one will make for a stunning adornment. Nevertheless, before making your decision, you’ll want to consider the pros and cons of a pearl vs a diamond ring.
Pearl jewelry can be found in different variations, from a pearl necklace to earrings and even an engagement ring. Pearls aren’t the go-to option for most when it comes to engagement rings, though that doesn’t mean they aren’t an option for couples looking for an unconventional jewelry choice. Pearl symbolism includes embodying the virtues of trust and loyalty, making them a beautiful symbol for those interested in proposing with pearls. Pearls also embody elegance and are timeless in jewelry pieces.
A few considerations when considering a pearl engagement ring:
- Pearls tend to be significantly less expensive in comparison to diamonds, offering a more affordable option for budget-conscious couples.
- As mentioned above, pearls come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Because of their diverse styles, they make for a unique, statement-making engagement ring.
- Pearls’ luster is a large part of their charm. That said, their shiny exterior can grow dull with time, and they may require more upkeep in order to preserve their original radiance.
- Pearls are even more perfect when paired. A pearl engagement ring would make for a sophisticated addition to other pearl pieces, such as an heirloom pearl necklace or everyday pearl studs.
Diamonds symbolize commitment, passion and long-lasting love. They remain one of the most sought-after gems in the world, and can be found in a variety of pieces, including pendants, earrings and, of course, engagement rings. Not to mention, diamonds rank at a 10 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, making them extremely durable, if not the most durable, stoneWith that said, you can rest assured knowing your diamond ring will stand the test of time.
If you lean more towards the side of tradition, the diamond ring is the epitome of wedding jewelry. Whether lab-grown, simulated or traditionally mined, diamond bands are one of the top choices for couples looking to tie the knot and express their devotion with an incomparable piece of jewelry.
That said, there are a few drawbacks to diamonds that you’ll want to consider before making a purchase:
- Diamonds can often come at a higher price than pearls. Those looking to propose with a mined diamond gemstone should be prepared to spend more than they would on a pearl, lab diamond, diamond simulant.
- Investing in a mined diamond may come at a higher ethical cost than pearls. If you’ve got your sights set on diamonds but would prefer to make a more conscious, eco-friendly purchase, consider a lab-grown diamond or diamond simulant instead.
Discover The Difference With Diamond Nexus
There’s no denying that there’s a lot to love about pearls and diamonds. If you’re still on the fence about your jewelry piece, there’s still more to explore. At Diamond Nexus, we’re bringing the very best in pearls and diamond alternative jewelry, giving you a perfect gem at a fraction of the price of a mined diamond.
Our diamond alternatives offer perfect cut, clarity and color, all while providing you with a product at a fraction of the cost. Whether you’re shopping for engagement rings, wedding bands or other jewelry, visit Diamond Nexus today to find your perfect piece.
PBS. The History of Pearls. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/history-pearls/
The Jewellery Editor. The history of pearls: one of nature’s greatest miracles. http://www.thejewelleryeditor.com/jewellery/article/history-of-pearls-pearl-jewellery-rings-earrings-necklaces/
American Gem Society. Diamond History. https://www.americangemsociety.org/birthstones/april-birthstone/diamond-history/
Britannica. De Beers S.A. https://www.britannica.com/topic/De-Beers-SA
GIA. What is Diamond Clarity?