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Cultured pearl vs. Shell based pearl
A cultured pearl is an organic gem. This means that it was produced by a living organism, generally an oyster or a mussel. It is produced by placing a bead inside the oyster. The oyster then coats the bead (with nacre) to produce the pearl.
A shell based pearl is an imitation. It is made by painting a shell bead with pearl paint. Be careful of brand named shell based pearls, these sometimes appear to be cultured pearls, but are only imitation.