Gallery & In-depth
Freshwater Pearls, compared to other types
Best known for their whimsical shapes and wide variety of sizes and colours, the character of a freshwater pearl is found in its distinctive surface texture and the warmth of its lustre. The nacre of a high-quality freshwater pearl does not typically have the glossy, metallic finish found in akoya pearls, and they are evaluated on separate quality scales.
Colours, shapes, and sizes
Because they offer a wider diversity of colours, shapes, and sizes than any other type of pearl, freshwater pearls are often used in fanciful designer jewellery. In addition to the traditional white body colour, these pearls come in a rainbow of natural pastel colours such as lavender, pink, and every shade in between. Most freshwater pearl information note their varied baroque shapes, including potato-shaped and stick pearls, rice-shaped and button pearls, coin-shaped and drop pearls, off-round and round pearls.
Freshwater pearls are produced by Hyriopsis cumingii (triangle shell) in freshwater lakes and man-made aquaculture ponds in China that also contain fish, shellfish and rice to support the small pearl farmer collectives. On a more petite scale also by other bivalve mussels (Hyriopsis schlegeli, Biwa shell) that live in lakes, riverbeds and creek bottoms in Japan (Biwa pearls and Lake Kasumigaura pearls), as well the United States (Mississippi River Basin).
Although most freshwater pearl information lists several areas of the world as home to pearl-producing mussels, the global freshwater market is overwhelmingly dominated by Chinese pearl farms, which account for nearly all freshwater pearls sold today.
The mussels are grafted with pieces of mantle tissue, resulting in pearls of solid nacre. About the size of a human hand, these mussels are able to produce up to 32 pearls at a time, 16 on either valve. At freshwater pearl farms, each mussel is surgically implanted with 24 to 32 tiny pieces of mantle tissue, a process known as nucleation. Once the tissue has been inserted, a sac forms and cells begin secreting nacre, forming a calcium-carbonate compound - a pearl. Over the course of 2 to 7 years, the mussels deposit layer upon layer of nacre around the growing gems, generally producing more than two dozen pearls clustered on the inside of each shell.
How rare and valuable are they?
While freshwater pearls as a variety are the most common type of pearl, very round and lustrous freshwater pearls are very difficult to find. Top-of-the-line freshwater pearls, such as the ones you'd find at high-end jewellery stores and reputable online stores, command a high retail value. They are dazzling in their rich, bright lustre, and their unique charm.
For more freshwater pearl information feel free to ask any of our team members. We are the experts on pearls and can answer any questions you may have.