Pearls - Freshwater

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Freshwater pearls are grown in various mussels and molluscs, which only live in fresh water lakes and rivers worldwide, so the variety is almost endless. Freshwater pearls have been found wherever mussels and molluscs live, from the wide Mississippi to the narrow rivers of Scotland. The size spectrum is equally varied, from tiny seed pearls at 1mm to large nucleated flameball pearls at 35mm or more.

The market leader nowadays is China, which has made the freshwater pearl its own. The Chinese are innovative pearl growers, always on the lookout for a new, more unusual and beautiful pearl and usually finding the means of producing it. They nucleate their mussels, cross-breed the varieties and as a result, many new shapes and types are born (see my guide to flameball and nucleated pearls for more info). China started to produce small rice-crispie shaped pearls in the 70s/80s era. Their nucleating methods with mantle tissue then produced lovely elliptical pearls, but the perfectly round pearl continued to elude them. Finally they used round mother-of pearl beads to seed the mussels, producing the flameball pearls first and eventually (recently) producing some perfectly round pearls. These are lovely pearls and they can reach sizes of 13-16mm, which then command a high price in their own right. Some can look a bit like the much more expensive seawater Akoya pearls on first inspection, but it must be remembered that the Akoya oyster is small and rarely produces pearls over 7mm, with a maximum of about 10mm, so please be aware that some 10mm+, so-called 'Akoyas' could be freshwater pearls in disguise.

The nucleated pearls take on the shape of their nucleus, so nearly all the fancy shapes are nucleated with the same shape bead. The main exception is when the placing of the nucleus leaves a channel which the mollusc fills with nacre, such as in the flameball and 'Dali-esque' weeping pearls. There are too many freshwater types to list, but round, coin, thick-nacre, hand-carved, freshwater keshi, various odd-shaped, baroque, stick pearls, Kasumi, Lake Biwa and Biwa hybrids all come under the umbrella of freshwater pearls.

Most freshwater pearls come in shades of white, cream, champagne, grey, dove, bluey-white, purple, violet, lilac, lavender, blush, pink, peach and apricot. Some can have a natural bronze colour or marks in bronze. Almost all other colours are dyed. There is no natural black in freshwater pearls. The only naturally occurring black is the Tahitian sea water pearl.

Kasumi, Lake Biwa, Biwa hybrids, large Keshi (esp the violet ones), hand-carved, perfectly round and thick-nacre are the expensive end of the freshwater pearl spectrum, but simple cultured freshwater off-round pearls are very affordable and are still real cultured pearls, which look great. Pearls have a style and colour to suit everyone, old and young alike.

forthgirl at Culross

My Akoya pearl guide can be found at:-

My Keshi and Unusual pearl guide can be found at :-

My South Sea and Tahitian Pearls guide can be found at :-

My Nucleated and Flameball pearls guide can be found at :-

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