What are Freshwater Pearls and Why it is Important to Know Where Pearls Are Found or Cultivated
Pearls are a truly wondrous creation. The only precious gem to emanate from a living organism, their beauty and rarity has been acknowledged and appreciated for centuries. However, just as no two living organisms are the same, so too no two pearls are the same. And to add to the mix, where pearls are found or cultivated differs – in fresh water or salt water.
So, what are freshwater pearls? As the names imply, freshwater pearls are pearls grown in freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, and ponds. Raised predominantly in China (and on a much smaller scale in Japan and the U.S.), freshwater pearls come in various shapes and sizes. In general, they are 2-10mm in size, with the larger pearls being rather rare and usually white or cream colored and round. There are also examples of freshwater pearls in pastel colors and different shapes.
Natural vs. Cultured Freshwater Pearls
Once again, as the name implies, natural freshwater pearls are those pearls found in nature without any human intervention in the pearl creation process. Cultured freshwater pearls are pearls from mussels or other pearl-producing mollusks that have had human intervention to instigate the pearl-creation process. Of course, both natural and cultured freshwater pearls are harvested in fresh water bodies.
Notwithstanding that Japan has almost no current cultured freshwater pearl production; it will always have its place in history as the country responsible for cultured freshwater pearls. The famous and stunning Biwa Pearls from Lake Biwa are Japan’s everlasting contribution to the pearl industry.
It’s Not Easy Being a Mollusk…
To quickly summarize how a pearl is formed, it involves the secretion of nacre from the mantle tissue of a mollusk as a form of protecting itself from an infection of injury caused by a parasite entering or injuring the tissue. It’s the mollusk equivalent of a human’s immune system, but in this case, a thing of great beauty is created.
In nature, it would take a freak chain of events to cause this. Cultured freshwater pearls involve humans inserting a tissue graft from a donor oyster to cause this chain of events; almost like IVF for mollusks.
Qualities of Freshwater Pearls
Freshwater pearls are cheaper than their saltwater cousins due to the fact that the freshwater mollusk can produce up to fifty pearls in a harvest as against one or two for a saltwater pearl. Although freshwater pearls may be more abundant than saltwater pearls, they are no less beautiful and actually have more nacre than saltwater pearls. The quality of nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, is a strong determinant of a pearl’s beauty and value.
A natural freshwater pearl may be of greater value than a cultured freshwater pearl due to its greater rarity, even though its beauty will be indistinguishable.