Fresh water pearls from China make up more than 90% of today's world wide pearl market, and have never been so large, or so widely accessible in human history. Although fresh water pearls have been found all over the world.. the most notable cultivations have been in the US, Japan and China. Dependent on the shell they are harvested from ... the natural colors can vary wildly from white,cream, through golden,pink, lavender and sometimes soft blue. Beyond the natural colors, Chinese fresh water pearls are available in a dizzying array of non-natural dyed and treated colors.
Natural colors of fresh water pearls include, white, cream, golden, pink, mauve, lavender, peach, and sometimes although very rarely can be found to have deep green overtones in a pink toned pearl, or silvery blue overtones in a white/cream color pearl.
All of the pearls in the photo below are DYED!
The process of dying pearls is very common with Chinese pearl producers. For the most part the pearls are soaked in vats of dye and the dye has the time to penetrate many layers of nacre. Sometimes a dyed color pearl will hold it's hue longer than a natural color pearl.
Freshwater pearl cultivating operations began in Lake Biwa JAPAN began in the 1920's and enjoyed a boom of production before dying out in the 1980's due to polluted waters. The introduction of cultured Japanese fresh water pearls in unusual shapes, gave rise to the term "Biwa" which is now commonly used to describe the shape of a pearl. Alongside Lake Biwa was the fresh water pearl production at Lake Kasumi Ga Ura Japan, which despite a nearly two decade interruption in production is now the ONLY fresh water pearl production in Japan.
(a side note : Unfortunately many pearl dealers now refer to Chinese fresh water ripple pearls as "Chinese Kasumi", or even simply "Kasumiga
" pearls : much like the misnomer that became popular due to ignorance about "Biwa" pearls.. if and when you come across pearls labeled "Chinese Kasumi" pearls.. these are NOT grown in Lake Kasumi ga Ura Japan. To date, there are three people employed in the fresh water pearl production in Japan.. the pearls they produce are very dear and lovingly farmed in accordance with the wonders of nature.
Fresh water pearl production in China began in the 1970's although China had been creating mabe (pronounced "MAH-BAY") pearls on the inside of fresh water pearl mussels for centuries. For many years the only fresh water pearls produced in China were very baroque in shape, earning the title "rice crispies". For the most part Chinese fresh water pearls are grown by using an implantation of mantle tissue and often dozens of pearls are harvested from the same shell. In recent years China has started to produce rather large bead nucleated round and baroque pearls which require a much more skilled technician and longer growing times. It remains to be seen how long China will be able to continue at it's current staggering rate of production. We can only pray that they will heed the lessons learned at Lake Biwa Japan and protect their clean waters for future generations.
Because of the sheer amount of pearls coming out of China these days, pearls are now less expensive and more accessible than they have ever been before. China's pearl industry employs hundreds of thousands and people and as the economy continues to blossom and traditions die away, many of the trained sorters and drillers have found work in other industries, making higher quality strands harder and harder to come by. Many of the Chinese fresh water strands that we sell have been re-mixed to assure an overall uniform quality.
There are literally hundreds of names used to describe shapes of Chinese fresh water pearls, and counting!
Flame ball pearls, ripple pearls, rosebud pearls, "keshi" pearls, "biwa" pearls, "edison" pearls, "ming" pearls, feather pearls, and souffle pearls are just a few. Some are brand names and some were applied to a shape because of a texture or the way in which the pearl was cultivated.
Japanese freshwater pearls:
Freshwater pearl cultivation originated in Lake Biwa, Japan in 1914. For over half a century, pearls from this lake enjoyed status as the most beautiful in the world. Consequently, freshwater pearls from all over Asia began to be falsely referred to as “Biwa Pearls.” (Technically, Biwa pearls can only be from Lake Biwa.) Sadly, around the mid-1970s, pearl production in Lake Biwa began to decline then nearly ceased to exist. The primary cause was environmental pollution. Today, measures are being taken to reinvigorate pearl production there.
Meanwhile, Lake Kasumi ga Ura has emerged as one of Japan’s only freshwater pearl producing bodies of water. Please refer to our description of Japan Kasumi pearls
for more information about their unique origin and the fascinating history and dedication of their farmers.
American Freshwater Pearls
John Latendresse began growing pearls in Tennessee in the 1960's and his family continues to sell these 100% American pearls. Please visit American Pearl Company for more information on these very special all American fresh water pearls.
Gina Latendresse is now the director of the American Pearl Company. Her family has been in the business of farming and selling American freshwater pearls since 1954.She also holds an impressive collection of natural wild found American fresh water pearls..
Please do not be fooled by other suppliers claiming to be selling American Pearls, especially online.
The Making of Freshwater Cultured Pearls
Traditional pearl cultivation involves first inserting a bead nucleus, then a piece of mantle tissue, inside a mollusk. Not long after this method began, pearl farmers discovered, quite accidentally, that nacre (NAY-ker) could form around mantle tissue without the presence of a bead nucleus. Leaving out the bead nucleus made the process easier and soon, this became an accepted means of production. Most freshwater pearls are nucleated only with a small piece of mantle tissue, although great strides have been made in recent years to produce bead-nucleated freshwater pearls. To date the sizes being reached by Chinese pearl producers are rivaling and often surpassing the average of size of South Sea pearls (until the last 10 years, the largest cultured pearls one could buy!
The freshwater pearl industry changes every year! To keep up to date on the market, vocabulary, treatments and discoveries... become a Cultured Pearl Association of America Pearl Expert by enrolling in their online course on pearls. We helped write some of freshwater pearl sections and we believe that increasing knowledge of pearls will be a benefit to everyone, especially online consumers.