There are a lot of mysterious-sounding terms when it comes to pearls, and “overtone” is definitely one of them. So we created this short article to clear up any misunderstandings about pearl overtones, and which one would look the best on your clientele.
White Pearl Overtones
The three most common overtones you’ll encounter are for white pearls: Rose, Silver and Cream. These three overtones will be the same for white Japanese Akoya, white Freshwater and White South Sea pearls, although their degrees of intensity will vary from pearl to pearl.
Classic White Japanese Akoya pearls are easily the most popular cultured pearl type of all, so we’ll start there.
Silver is the most popular white pearl overtone. Closest to a true, bright white colour, the Silver overtone comes the closest to what most people believe a pearl ”should” look like.
Who Will Love It: Women with dark or olive complexions, or those who tan easily. Women with black or dark brunette hair also wear the Silver overtone well.
Why They’ll Love It: The bright white body and “cooler” undertones (primarily shades of blue and green) of the Silver pearl overtone contrasts the darker skin tones and hair colours and helps these pearls optically enlarge to appear larger, brighter and whiter.
Recommended Pairings: The Silver overtone is really versatile, and looks beautiful with both white gold and yellow gold accents. White gold will generally enhance the pearl’s “cool” undertones, helping them appear brighter and whiter. Yellow gold creates a nice, elegant contrast – a very classic pearl look.
Rose is the most Traditional White Pearl Overtone. Rose (or rosé as it is also called) features a faint to deep pink blush of colour over the white body colour of the pearl.
Who Will Love It: Women with fair complexions, blondes and light to medium-dark brunettes.
Why They’ll Love It: Rose is a “warm” overtone, so yellow and faint pink undertones to the skin and lots of warm highlights like yellow gold help this pearl light up and sparkle!
Recommended Pairings: Yellow gold is traditionally chosen for this pearl overtone; it warms up the pearls and increases that special sparkle factor. White gold is chosen often for younger ladies who prefer the cooler tones. White gold with rose overtones cools the pearls down, helping to mute the pink hues in the pearl surfaces.
Cream/Ivory is the Third Most Popular Overtone. Cream is best described as a hint of French Vanilla over the white body colour of the pearl.
Who Will Love It: Cream is an excellent choice for red heads, older women with grey or silver hair and those who blush easily or have a lot of pink/red undertones to their complexions.
Why They’ll Love It: The cream pearl overtone is a “warm” overtone that compliments rather than contrasts with pinks and reds; these pearls will warm up against the deeper complexions and sparkle nicely. The finest Cream overtones feature flashes of violet colour, and add a nice sense of “depth” to the pearl’s surface.
Recommended Pairings: Yellow Gold all the way. Cream/Ivory is one of those overtones that’s definitely on the warmer side (lots of yellow in there!), so you want to complement this hue, not fight with it. White gold can be a bit on the “clashy” side unless you have the exact right shade of Cream.
White Freshwater and White South Sea pearls both have the same overtone palette of Rose, Silver and Cream.
For White South Sea pearls, the most common overtone you’ll find is a bright Silver, and Rose is the most rare (and valuable!). Cream can be gorgeously complex, with undertones of violet and bright flashes of magenta shimmering over the surface, so don’t count Cream out! Generally overtones for White South Sea pearls are a bit softer and less intense than that of the Japanese Akoya.
With Freshwater pearls, you’ll find a lot of Creamy hues and Rose overtones in each harvest, and Silver is the least prevalent.
Black Pearl Overtones
Cultured Tahitian pearls are the naturally black pearls grown in the tropical lagoons and atolls of French Polynesia. Their primary body colours aren’t truly black, but range in colour from the palest Silver and Dove Grey to Very Dark Charcoal Grey.
Their secondary overtones are a literal rainbow of colours, but the most famous and popular are Peacock, Silver/Steel and Blue-Green. Other “exotic” and famous overtones are colours like Aubergine (eggplant purple), Cherry, Sky Blue, Pistachio, Chocolate and more.
Peacock is a varied mix of Green, Gold and Rose hues, shimmering over either a light or dark grey body colour.
Who Will Love It: Everybody! The Peacock overtone is varied and beautiful – these pearls can be light-toned or dark-toned, cool or warm-hued depending on the amount of colours present on the surface.
Why They’ll Love It: Lighter grey Peacock Tahitian pearls work well for blondes, or those with pink undertones as the pearls reflect greater amounts of light, and offer less contrast against skin tones that don’t handle intense colours well. Darker Peacock Tahitian pearls work beautifully for dark, tan or olive complexions, or for women with very pale complexions with dark brunette to black hair.
Recommended Pairings: Depending on the colours in the pearls one wants to play up, Peacock overtones can go with either white or yellow gold. White gold accents intensify the cooler end of the Peacock spectrum, enhancing the greens and hints of blue tones. Yellow gold mountings will have a warming effect on the pearls, bringing out their golden, warm green and rose hues.
Silver/Steel Tahitian overtones can best be described as a Silvery-grey to pale white sheen shimmering over a light to dark Charcoal Grey body colour. They can also contain hints of Rose or Aquamarine/Green that add a little splash of colour to keep it interesting.
Who Will Love It: Anyone will look good in Silver Tahitians, but fair complexions and blondes will benefit the most from this overtone. That goes double if she has pink or reddish undertones to her complexion and can’t handle heavy contrasting colours. Women who wear a lot of pastel shades will benefit from the diffuse colours of the Silver overtone.
Why They’ll Love It: Silver Tahitians reflect the most amount of light, making the pearls appear brighter and larger than they really are. The higher rate of light reflection and the paler colours create less of a contrast.
Recommended Pairings: White gold clasps, bales and mountings are the obvious choice for Silver Tahitians, which are very complementary. To rev up secondary colours like Aquamarine or Rose tints, then use yellow gold accents.
Blue-Green Tahitian overtones are the second most-popular and prevalent overtone for Tahitian pearls. Usually mid to strongly saturated, the blue-green overtone is a bright splash of colour over a medium to dark Charcoal grey body colour.
Who Will Love It: Women with dark hair and pale complexions, red heads and winter complexions will dazzle in the Blue-Green Tahitian overtones.
Why They’ll Love It: The darker jewel-tones of the Blue-Green overtone really have their chance to shine in high-contrast outfits and complexions.
Recommended Pairings: White gold is the most popular choice to wear with blue-green overtones. White metal accents help cool down the pearls, and enhance the unique blue hues present on the pearls. Use yellow gold if you want to play up the warmer green hues on the pearls instead.
Golden South Sea Pearl Overtones
Golden South Sea pearls can be a little bit tricky for some of us. These naturally-coloured pearls feature subtle overtones of Rose, Neutral Gold, Silver, Green/Bronze and Champagne*. These secondary colours shimmer over primary body colours of gold that range from paler 12K gold to the deepest (and orange-y!) 24K tones. Deeper and more intense, the golden hues are more valuable than paler colours.
Neutral Golden (also known as Yellow) pearl overtones are the most prevalent out of any harvest. They are a secondary, transparent tinge of gold over the primary body colour of the pearl (Gold), and so appear that the pearls have no overtone at all.
Who Will Love It: Just about everybody who loves Golden South Sea pearls will enjoy a Gold overtone.
Why They'll Love It: The Neutral Gold overtones are the easiest to match to nearly any complexion, and allow the pearl’s natural colour to really shine.
Recommended Pairings: Yellow gold clasps, mountings and bales will enhance these pearls’ natural Golden tones, helping them appear brighter and richer.
Rose overtones on Golden South Sea pearls are a faint blush of pink colour over the main Golden body colour of the pearls.
Who Will Love It: Pale and fair-skinned women will be able to wear this overtone easily, as it adds a touch of warmth to the pearls and the complexion.
Why They'll Love It: The Rose overtone is a ‘warm’ Golden South Sea colour, which boosts the pearls’ sparkle and makes it easier to pair with a variety of complexions and outfits.
Recommended Pairings: Yellow gold is the easiest and most complimentary metal to use.
Green/Bronze overtones on Golden South Sea pearls are the trickiest of all to wear. They appear as a distinct greenish tinge over the golden body colour of the pearl.
Who Will Love It: Women with very dark skin, or those with yellow/green undertones to their complexions will be able to pull off this look the best.
Why They’ll Love It: The cool undertones in their complexions will not clash with a Green/Bronze overtone, making it a complimentary colour choice. That and the Green/Bronze overtone is a very unique and visually appealing overtone that is sure to capture attention.
Recommended Pairings: Yellow gold is usually the best choice for this overtone combo, as it enhances the contrasting colours making for a visually striking piece of jewellery.
Champagne coloured Golden South Sea pearls are not really an overtone, but more of a rare and distinct body colour. The Champagne hue is a pale pinkish-peach colouring very reminiscent of a fine champagne.
Who Will Love It: Blondes and light brunettes will do well with this pearl colour, as well as ladies with pink or red undertones to their complexions.
Why They'll Love It: The pale, pastel hues will be flattering to complexions that don’t handle heavy colours well.
Recommended Pairings: This overtone/colour could go either way, but usually a nice yellow gold will help warm the pearls up and enhance their sparkle.
Silver overtones on Golden South Sea pearls appear as a pale sheen of white over the Golden pearl.
Who Will Love It: Women who can handle cooler colours in their wardrobes, those who have tan or Mediterranean complexions.
Why They’ll Love It: The Silver overtone is a bright, cool shade that enhances the pearls’ green or even blue undertones. Its great at amplifying light reflected off the surfaces of the pearls, making the pearls appear brighter and larger than their actual size.
Recommended Pairings: Select white gold clasps, bales and earring mountings to amplify this effect.
Pearl Overtones on Different Skin Colours
The pictures below show the three most popular white pearl overtones of Rose, Silver and Cream on various skin tones.