Pearl History | A Brief History of Freshwater Pearls...
Freshwater pearls can be found in ancient Chinese manuscripts to date all the way back to the thirteenth century. Although round cultured pearls were not commercially harvested until the 1930's in Japan, China was very much aware of pearl culturing long before that.
The culturing of blister pearls was widespread by the thirteenth century, and in fact many of the same techniques used centuries ago are still in use today.
Freshwater pearls can be found in mussels of freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers. The majority of freshwater cultured pearls are produced in China or Japan, however they can also be found in the United States, as well as Europe.
Although many mussel types can be used to cultivate freshwater pearls, the Hyriopsis Cumingi mussel, also referred to as the Triangle Shell is the most commonly used mussel. The Hyriopsis Cumingi mussel consistently produces the highest quality product.
To cultivate freshwater mussels a process called 'tissue nucleation' is used in which a piece of mantle tissue is inserted into the mussel from a donor mollusk. Because this type of nucleation does not require the use of a bead nucleus (as does the saltwater mollusk), it is much more difficult to produce a round pearl as a result.
However more difficult it may be to produce a round pearl, there is an upside.
Freshwater pearls are said to be nearly all nacre, and the closest that any cultured pearl will ever be to that of the natural pearl. In fact, they are so similar that many experts often mistake a cultured freshwater pearl, and a natural pearl.
The only way to positively differentiate between a tissue nucleated pearl and a natural pearl is to have the pearls x-rayed to see the interior of the pearl, and even then it is sometimes difficult.
Only 2% of the freshwater pearls produced are round or near-round in shape, where as many as 80% of saltwater are round or near-round. Yes, the saltwater pearls have much higher odds of being round, however you also have to take into consideration that they are bead nucleated which is very helpful in producing a round pearl.
Freshwater mussels/mollusks can be nucleated with as many as 50 pieces of mantle tissue which in turn can produce anywhere from 30-40 cultured freshwater pearls. With such impressive results it is easy to see why there are so many freshwater pearls available in the market, however very few are said to be 'gem' quality.
When Chinese freshwater pearls first entered the market, the quality of pearls being produced were very low compared to those being produce today. The main focus was on volume or quantity rather than quality. As time has gone by however, with modern advances in pearl culturing Chinese Freshwater pearls have been very competitive with the best of pearls in the market.
As you may already know, Freshwater pearls are available in a wide range of colors both natural, and treated. Most commonly, natural freshwater pearls are white, cream, lavender, purple, yellow, and orange in color with sizes ranging from 2mm-13mm.
Many people have come to love the Freshwaters for their beauty, affordability, quality, and wide array of colors.