Much mystery surrounds the lustrous lovelies known as freshwater pearls. What they are and how they differ from pearls in general remains unclear. Let me remove some of the mystery around the pearly pieces you undoubtedly have in your jeweled collection.
The name comes from the kind of water in which freshwater pearls are produced. Both fresh water and salt water are habitat for mollusks that produce pearls. The waters that produce freshwater pearls include rivers, lakes, ponds, and Asian pearl farms, particularly those in China, which is the country of highest freshwater pearl production in the world.
The producing entity of pearls in fresh water is the mussel. It is the mollusk of freshwater as the oyster is of saltwater. There are many varieties of mussel and not all of them produce pearls. The mollusk varieties that do produce pearls produce them at different rates and by different cultivating techniques.
Cultivators of freshwater pearls cultivate their own mussel varieties too. Like the cross breeding of canines to yield a dog of chosen characteristics, pearl production often involves breeding a better-producing mollusk. Exactly how they do that remains a mystery for everybody outside the pearl farm.
Freshwater pearls come in colors produced naturally, such as white, ivory, and the palest of pastels of pink, beige, and gray. For these, the mussel needs no help. But freshwater pearls take on color treatments when metal salts are added to the production waters at the pearl farm.
Exactly how color is produced in a pearl while the mollusk is making it remains a trade secret. Suffice it to say that the color, while technically man made, is produced by the chemistry of additives to the water. It is technically incorrect to think that the pearls are harvested from the mollusks then painted or coated for color.
Drilled freshwater pearls, ready for fabrication into jewelry, are sold to designers in 16-inch strands. Whatever their size or shape, a strand has as many pearls as will fit end to end on sixteen inches of thread. Suppliers string pearls of similar size and shape on a strand but sometimes include a pearl or two of inferior quality. Designers buying their pearl supplies at shows must inspect their selections carefully.
The status of the perfectly round saltwater pearl gives way to new interest in freshwater pearls among designers and jewelry lovers alike. Your mother’s pearl necklace of small, graduated, lustrousless pearl varieties gives way to a heightened regard for freshwater pearls among high-fashion jewelry cognoscenti.
Everything about freshwater pearls is appealing and conducive to more daring designs. They’re more colorful, have more interesting shapes, come in all sizes, have as much luster, and are much more abundant, hence cost less and therefore are more accessible to more jewelry lovers than ever before.
If you equate cost with quality, then the perfect white rounds strung in a row are for you. If your passion for pearls seeks the interest of color, shape, texture, and quantity, you’ll seek jeweled accessories in designs of freshwater pearls. It’s what’s new in pearl jewelry.