Freshwater pearls, as their name suggests, are cultured in freshwater environments such as ponds and lakes, using Mussels rather than Oysters.
The actual culturing process to create a freshwater pearl is similar to that of seawater culturing, differing in one major respect - the mussel is usually implanted with just small pieces of mantle tissue from another mussel alone, as this is sufficient to cause the irritation which starts the nacreous coating.
As the freshwater mussel is of a larger size and has more mantle tissue than its Seawater cousin, it is able to produce more pearls in a single mussel and to a greater size. This type of culturing gives rise to a pearl which is similar to a natural pearl in that is almost solid nacre rather than mainly nucleus as in the case of the Akoya-or seawater Cultured Pearl.
|For decades the Japanese produced good quality freshwater Pearls in Lake Biwa, a very large lake near Kyoto.Sadly,Biwa fell into decline and ceased production due to pollution in the 1980’s.
Practically all freshwater pearls of a certain appearance-regardless of their true origin became known as “Biwa Pearls”, even today this practice still continues.
The only commercially productive lake in Japan in recent times, was Lake Kasumiga-ura, located north east of Tokyo.
Kasumiga Pearls were often of fine quality with lovely pastel colours and sizes up to 16mm, with correspondingly large price tags. However,in the last few years even production of these pearls seems to have ceased.
Around the time lake Biwas went into decline,freshwater pearl production in China went into overdrive.Prior to this time China had been producing relatively low quality and poor shape Pearls often called “Iridescent Rice Crispies”.
This started to change however in the late 80's and early 90's, when producers improved their techniques through continued research and devolpment.Farmers also improved quality by reducing the number of implants per Mollusc.
Based mainly in the Zhejiang provence of central eastern China,and benefiting from clean waters and a large local rural workforce,the new generation of pearl producers have brought off and amazing increase in Pearl quality,size,and colours.In the last five years farmers have successfully nucleated freshwater mussels and can now create pearls in a variety of shapes.
Farming in lakes, ponds and purpose dug areas the size of football fields,Chinese freshwater pearl farmers have revolutionised the pearl market in the same way Mikimoto had done decades before. They have turned the wheel one stage further.
|In these photographs,taken one of our buying trips, you can just about make out the floating green "Seven Up" bottles that are ubiquitous in Chinese pearl farms.They are used to suspend small nets at the correct height in the water as the pearl develop.
The farm worker to the right shows one of these nets holding 3 Mussels.
Freshwater Cultured Pearl
Mussel: Hyriopsis Cumingii, Hyriopsis Schlegeli, Cristaria Plicata and others.
Shapes: Very varied including: baroque Biwa, bouton, coin, drop, Keshi, lozenge, potato, oval, rice, sausage, twin and many more.
Sizes: 1.5mm to 16mm
Colours: White, pink, peach lilac naturally.Black,grey and many other colours can be created by treatments.
Locations: China, Japan,Vietnam