While both can be beautiful there are differences between the saltwater pearl and the freshwater pearl. Some believe that freshwater pearls are not "real". On the contrary, freshwater pearls are just as real as their saltwater counterparts. The main distinction between the two is that they are produced by different types of shellfish. This results in varying shapes, sizes and color.
Pearls are made by shellfish when an irritant such as a grain of sand invades the shell. This "core" is known as the mother of pearl. The shellfish secretes a smooth substance which coats the offending object thus stopping the irritation of it's delicate inner shell. The continued build up of the substance forms a pearl.
Salt water pearls are made by oysters in the ocean. This type of pearl is almost always round and can vary in color. The "perfection" of the true coloring and near perfect sphere make the salt water pearls much more desirable to consumers. Salt water pearls are produced in the ocean depths and can take anywhere from a year and a half to two years to form. Given the quality, shape and length of time, salt water pearls are generally much more expensive than their freshwater counterparts.
Freshwater pearls are made by mussels living in the unsalted water of lakes, streams and rivers. This type of pearl is egg shaped or Baroque. The irregular lumpy shape makes these pearls less desirable to some and therefore much more affordable. Colors vary widely though the pearl does seem to reflect the hue of the mussel itself. Freshwater pearls have been produced that are white, yellow, cream, pink and even odd hues such as lavender.
Both types of pearls are now "farmed" by humans. Cultivated salt water pearls may take two to three years before they are ready for harvest. In the 1980s freshwater pearl farmers were producing approximately twenty each year from a single mussel. It soon became clear that these pearls were not as high quality, large or desirable to the public. Pearl farmers changed their methods and began allowing the mussels to remain in the water anywhere from three to six years. This produced much larger pearls of a higher quality that were still more inexpensive than the saltwater pearls.
Freshwater pearls and saltwater pearls both have a beauty and elegance of their own. The better or more desirable pearl relies on personal preference and how much money you are willing to spend.