When envisioning a large, luminous, silver-white pearl, you are likely picturing a white South Sea pearl from the silver-lipped mollusk. There is no other pearl quite like it. These large pearls range in size from around nine millimeters to larger than twenty millimeters, with most pearls falling in the eleven to fourteen range—larger than any akoya pearl.
Besides their large size, silver-lipped pearls often exhibit a satiny luster and an apparent glow referred to as orient, which varies with the angle of the light. Some people prefer this pearl over others for the beauty of its luster.
South Sea Pearls are from a species of mollusk known as the Pinctada maxima. This giant of a shell can grow to 30 centimeters across and weigh five kilos in the wild. Two subspecies are used for pearl culture: the gold lip and the silver lip. The gold lip produces 70-90 percent cream and gold colors and perhaps 10-30 percent whites. The silver lip produces 90 percent silver-white pearls and 10 percent in the light creamy and gold range. The silver-lipped variety is mostly found in the waters north of Australia, just south of the equator. With both types, other colors occur, though more rarely.
Australian pearl farmers use the silver-lipped Pinctada maxima to grow white South Sea pearls. The shell has an inner lining of icy-silver nacre that seems whiter than white. This has always been the most prized color of mother of pearl, and is the reason pearls produced within this mollusk are predominately white.