A Good Reason to Buy Freshwater Pearls Today

Published: 01st May 2009
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Although some might debate the point; in this author's view; freshwater pearls offer the best value available in pearls. The reason for this is that cultured freshwater pearls are basically indistinguishable from natural pearls (which are now largely commercially unavailable - and if they were available, their cost would be prohibitive for most people), and yet the price of freshwater pearls is well below any of the other major pearl varieties.

For the past century or so, saltwater pearl culturing has involved implanting oysters with a tiny piece of oyster mantle tissue along with a spherical shell bead. When everything works as intended, the host oyster then coats the bead with nacre, layer upon layer until the bead is totally hidden under a number of coats of nacre. (Nacre is the smooth and iridescent shell material used by the mollusk to coat the inside of its shell... also called; "Mother-of-Pearl".) After the pearl farmer determines that the coating of nacre is sufficiently thick, he harvests the pearl and it is cleaned up, polished, sometimes further processed, and then sold.

Unfortunately, one can see how the pearl farmer may feel tempted to shorten the production cycle by harvesting the bead nucleated pearl at the earliest possible moment resulting in a pearl with only a thin layer of nacre that will fail to provide the full measure of beauty characteristics that have come be appreciated in pearls. Additionally, pearls with such thin coatings of nacre don't last, the nacre can wear-off or chip-off over time leaving bare spots. This is more often seen with some Akoya pearls from Japan than with other pearl varieties of cultured pearls such as Tahitian or Southsea pearls.

Freshwater pearls, on the other hand, are generally produced using tissue nucleation techniques. This means that the host mollusk (in this case a freshwater mussel) forms a pearl around a small (3mm) cube of mantel tissue from a donor mussel (no bead is involved). Eventually the tissue disintegrates leaving a pearl of 100% nacre. In other words; a pearl largely indistinguishable from a natural pearl. This means that the pearl will display its full measure of both luster and iridescence and also last a lifetime if cared for properly.

Some people consider cultured freshwater pearls to be the only legitimate cultured "pearl". In fact bead nucleated cultured pearls are not considered to be true pearls in certain Middle Eastern countries or even in India. Bead nucleated cultured pearls can't even be legally sold in Bahrain where the government doesn't consider them to be true pearls.

Although cultured freshwater pearls have a long production cycle sometimes spanning six-years the price for these, often spectacular pearls is very low. The reasons for this are many, and include; production efficiencies (multiple pearls can be produced at a time by a single mussel), low production costs (much of the world's supply of cultured freshwater pearls come from China), consumer perception. By consumer perception, what I mean is that to many; Chinese freshwater pearls are still associated with the inferior quality ("rice-crispy-like") pearls that came out of China in the 80's and before. The fact is that now days through improved culturing techniques, Chinese freshwater pearls easily rival the quality of other pearl varieties and offer the added advantage of being 100% nacre.

The reason that the time to buy these pearls is now, is that the trend in producing Chinese freshwater pearls is moving towards a bead nucleation technique and away from tissue nucleation. The reasons for this include; the desire for more consistently round pearls and a shorter production cycle since instead of allowing the mussel sufficient time to create an entire pearl from nacre, the objective will be only to have mussel coat a shell bead with sufficient nacre to create a typical cultured pearl. In the future, it is possible that 100% nacre freshwater pearls will become a thing of the past. Right now the quality and the price are both great. Check out the great selection of freshwater pearl jewelry at www.MermaidPearls.com

Dave Battles is the founder and owner of www.MermaidPearls.com and is a graduate of the Gemological Institute of America's Pearl Certificate program.

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