How are Freshwater Pearls produced?
There may be visual similarities between freshwater and saltwater pearls (Akoya, South Sea and Tahitian), but they come from diverse sources. Different varieties of freshwater mussels, belonging to the Unionidae family, are responsible for creating freshwater pearls. They can thrive in both hot and cold temperatures, and are generally found in lakes, rivers and ponds. All freshwater pearls used in the jewelry industry today are produced in pearl farms. While some human intervention is involved in the creation of these cultured pearls, they are still born inside a living mussel and are absolutely genuine.
As they are adaptable to different climatic conditions, pearl-producing mussels can be found in several locations around the world, including Japan and United States. Currently, however, the global freshwater pearl market is dominated by Chinese pearl farms.
The Art of Nucleation
Hyriopsis cumingi (triangle shell) and Hyriopsis schlegeli (Biwa shell) are the main mussel species responsible for creating freshwater pearls. These species are able to produce higher quality pearls than the C. Plicata species, which was used throughout the 1980s. The process of obtaining pearls from them is called ‘nucleation’, and it involves the surgical implantation of several tiny pieces of mantle tissue inside the mussel. This leads to the creation of a sac, followed by the secretion of nacre around it. Nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, is essentially an organic calcium carbonate compound. This substance is secreted by mollusks in response to an intruding irritant or an implanted mantle tissue. The process of depositing layers of nacre on the tissue generally lasts between 2 to 7 years. In the end, it results in more than two dozen pearls.
Did you know?
Contrary to common belief, a grain of sand rarely or never acts as an irritant to the mussel. Organic material and parasites typically do the trick. And as mentioned above, manual insertion of mantle tissue in mussels results in freshwater cultured pearls.
QUALITY & GRADING
Unlike most of the other gemstones that are found within the crust of the earth, pearl is an organic jewel created by living creatures. For this reason, the grading parameters used to assess its quality will be slightly different. But there are six important aspects that you should always keep in mind when looking for a good quality freshwater pearl.
- This determines a gem’s capacity to reflect light. In the case of a good quality freshwater pearl, you’ll notice that its luster is bright and sharp. Pearls that appear too chalky, white or dull must be avoided as they indicate low quality.
- A clean surface is an important mark of a good quality freshwater pearl. Any kind of bump, crack or disfiguring spots will immediately bring down its value. Always look for a smooth, mirror-like surface.
- Freshwater pearls are available in a rainbow of natural pastel colors, such as lavender, pink, and everything in between. But white is undoubtedly one of the most frequently purchased shades. An heirloom-quality freshwater pearl in this particular hue will usually have a subtle creamy overtone.
- Freshwater pearls are usually near round or off-round in shape. It is difficult to find one that is perfectly round, and therefore they will demand more value than the others.
- The best freshwater pearls have very thick nacre. This is the substance from which pearls are made, and its depth determines the luster, durability, value and quality of the pearl.
- In this particular aspect, the value of the pearl will go upwards with the size. Increase in just a single millimeter will cause a substantial jump in the value, as well as the overall appearance. Today, freshwater pearls sold have an average size of 6.5 mm to 7.0 mm.
- Akoya pearls in a size range between 7mm to 8mm are most preferred as these measurements make them versatile enough to be used in different types of jewelry, such as earrings, bracelets and necklaces.
- Currently there is no universally accepted method for evaluation of pearl quality. The below mentioned features, however, will help you distinguish a high-quality freshwater pearl from the rest.
- Nearly round in shape, these high-grade pearls are high on luster and have very minor blemishes.
- Off-round in shape, they have minor to moderate blemishes. Their luster is more on the average side compared to best quality pearls.
Does this gem undergo any treatments?
Good quality freshwater cultured pearls do not require any kind of treatment, and they are available at an affordable price. But you will also find bleached, coated, dyed and fake pearls in the market. It is recommended that you buy freshwater pearl jewelry only from a reputed jewelry brand like Angara, which does not sell artificially treated freshwater pearls. Some effort and care will go a long way in ensuring your freshwater pearl jewelry remains glowing for years to come, and without the need for any additional treatments.
How valuable is a Freshwater Pearl today?
Initially, freshwater pearls were deemed low quality and an inexpensive alternative to the seawater pearl options. This is primarily because freshwater pearls did and still cover an extensive range of colors and shapes compared to all the other types. But things changed in the year 1990, when a new class of freshwater pearls was introduced to the market. In comparison to the ‘rice crispie-shaped’ freshwater pearls of the 1980s, these were more round and lustrous.
Over the last decade, the humble freshwater pearl has undergone many stages of improvement. From the formed ‘rice-grain’, off-round ‘potato’ and ‘button’ shape to large, near-perfect round freshwater pearls with remarkable luster have been produced. An high-quality pearl today can easily rival Akoya pearls in both beauty and value. It also offers an assortment of options for buyers with regards to the size, shape and color.
What makes Freshwater Pearls a must-have?
- Available in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes: Freshwater pearls have two major features that work brilliantly in their favor — their availability in a wide range of colors and their unique shapes. This combined with an attractive pricing has helped them find a place not just in the hearts of regular shoppers, but also jewelry designers and pearl connoisseurs.
- Value for Money: In comparison to seawater pearls, farmed freshwater pearls are generally more affordable. This is because unlike oysters, that typically develop only one pearl at a time, a single mussel is capable of producing up to 50 freshwater pearls. Also, visually they look almost the same and the only difference is their mineral composition. In simple words, a freshwater pearl will not just delight you with its uniqueness, but also offer value for money.
STYLE & CARE TIPS
The right way to flaunt Freshwater Pearls
When it comes to wearing pearls, you should always aim for minimalism. This gem has enough elegance and luster in itself to help you pull off almost any outfit. A freshwater pearl, especially, looks classy when worn with formal attires and graceful evening gowns. For a more luxurious look, you can pick pearl jewelry that also showcases sparkling diamonds; it’s a combination that never fails to turn heads.
Keep Them Lustrous
Freshwater pearls are delicate treasures and need to be treated with love and care. Keep the following simple tips in mind to ensure they look brand new for years to come.
Keep you freshwater pearl jewelry away from all types of chemicals, heat and humidity as all these elements can potentially cause irreparable damage.
Avoid soaking pearls in water. Instead, dip a piece of soft cloth in soap water and gently wipe it all over the pearl. Finish by wiping it clean with a barely damp, soft cloth and let it dry naturally.
Periodically, inspect the setting and strings of your pearl jewelry, and have it fixed at a jeweler immediately if you spot any damage.