Freshwater pearl varieties

by Binasaji

The price of freshwater pearls is lower compared to the saltwater variety. The price difference is mainly due to two main reasons – the quantity of pearls produced by a single mollusk and the quality of the pearls. An individual saltwater oyster normally produces only one or two or a maximum of four large pearls at a time unlike the freshwater mollusk – yielding 20-50 pearls during a single harvest.

Real Pearls are mainly of two varieties - Freshwater and Saltwater. Freshwater pearls are cultivated in rivers, lakes and bays having freshwater. Japan was the pioneer in the cultured pearl industry and for many years controlled the pearl market, environment pollution led to reduction in production from Japan. Today, freshwater pearls are mainly cultured in China, Japan and parts of the United States but the Chinese are the leaders in cultured freshwater pearls and most of the freshwater pearls available in the global market are of Chinese origin.

Pearl Bracelet

Freshwater Pearls are found in different shapes ranging from round to oval to rice shaped, button shaped pearls and plenty more. The large variety in the shapes make freshwater pearls a designer's delight. The round shapes are more valued than the other shapes but even the best freshwater round pearls are not as perfectly round as their saltwater cousins nor does their surface have the sheen and polish of the saltwater pearls, but they have a warm charm of their own and their natural unique shapes make attractive Jewellery pieces.

These pearls are found in a vast range of colors from white to silver, gold, lilac, pink, copper, green and almost every other hue imaginable. Freshwater pearls come in a range of sizes from 1mm upto 18mm - these qualities make them a versatile option for contemporary designers. Black freshwater pearls too are cultivated in the US, but the difference is unlike the Black Tahiti pearls, which are perfect spheres, the black freshwater pearls are normally found in non-spherical shapes making them less expensive than the Tahiti pearls and very suitable for economical jewellery ensembles.

The price of freshwater pearls is lower compared to the saltwater variety. The price difference is mainly due to two main reasons - the quantity of pearls produced by a single mollusk and the quality of the pearls. An individual saltwater oyster normally produces only one or two or a maximum of four large pearls at a time unlike the freshwater mollusk - yielding 20-50 pearls during a single harvest. Most saltwater oysters are implanted with fragments only once whereas the freshwater varieties can be harvested 2-4 times making the yield from a single freshwater mussel almost 30 times more than a saltwater mussel. An interesting fact about the freshwater mussels is that sometimes after being harvested for the first time, the mussels instinctively produce pearls the second time, without fresh implantation of any fragment or irritant inside the shell, making freshwater cultivation less risky and requiring reduced manpower or labor.

Pearls are produced by oysters - this is true for saltwater pearls but the freshwater pearls are also cultivated within other shelled clams or mollusks. The size of the freshwater mollusk is larger than the saltwater oysters and each freshwater mollusk yields 20-50 pearls, which are harvested and then segregated as per their size, shape, color and quality. The high yield from each mollusk results in greater quantities of pearls of various sizes, shapes but the great number of pearls inside a single shell reduces the quality of the pearls, often lacking in luster, surface smoothness and spherical shapes. But freshwater pearls have higher concentration of nacre since the nuclei implant is normally made from tissue and is smaller than the implant for saltwater pearls, which degenerates during the formation of the pearl and even the center of the pearl is nacre unlike the saltwater pearls which have normally have a mother-of-pearl core. (mother-of-pearl refers to the shell of the mollusk). Their unusual shape and colors allow more reflection of light giving glow and shine to the strands created from freshwater pearls.

Common freshwater pearls

Biwa Pearls: These were the first freshwater pearls to be cultivated by Japan in Lake Biwa. Environmental pollution caused the destruction of the lake and the mussel producing the pearl is also nearly extinct. The name Biwa pearl is due to its place of origin and it is rare to find Biwa pearls today.


Keishi Pearls: a word of Japanese origin meaning Poppy seed, are formed when the mollusk ignores the implanted piece and does not coat it with nacre. Instead it creates a pearl by itself (leading many to believe that the Keishi is a natural pearl also). The size of the Keishi pearl can vary from 1mm to 10mm depending on the mussel hosting the implant. They can be found in irregular shapes but have a high sparkle.

Mabe Pearls: Sometimes cultivators implant a half moon plastic piece into the mollusk to create the Mabe pearls. The resultant pearl is a actually a half pearl, which is harvested, the plastic implant is carefully separated and then the hollow half-pearl is filled and covered with a mother-of-pearl piece. These Mabe pearls are used to make mounted jewellery where the whole pearl does not show. Mabe pearls are fragile, inexpensive and do not have a high luster or sheen but are very economical and can create dramatic pieces of jewellery.

Blister pearls: Sometimes pearls grow from the side of the shell resulting in half-pearls, which are not hollow. They are similar to the Mabe pearls but with a greater coating of nacre and are more durable since they are not hollow but have complete nacre inside and out. These pearls have a better reflection of light due to the heavy coating of nacre.

Rice or Seed Pearls: Tiny pearls resembling puffed rice, these look wonderful as multi-strand necklaces with dramatic pendants. The rice pearls are uneven in shape but after being strung together in strands they look spectacular.

Other shapes of pearls are Button pearls, which appear like buttons and may have circular designs imprinted on them. The Potato stick shapes are those resembling tiny French fries. All these different shapes and designs are extremely affordable and complement every occasion and outfit.

Recently, the Chinese cultivators produced wonderful round Freshwater pearls which are at par in quality and size with their saltwater counterparts which has created a greater market for freshwater pearls in lieu of their more expensive saltwater cousins.

The origin of the pearl is not important as long as the pearl appeals to an individual and has a good luster and appearance. Pearls are the epitome of elegance, lending a glow to the wearer.

 
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