The origins of fresh water pearls
It is an old Chinese story. The Chinese fresh water pearls invaded the international market around 1970, but the full story is different : the farming of fresh water pearls dates back to several centuries ago in China. From ancient Chinese manuscript it is actually possible to prove that in the 13th century the blister pearl was already widely farmed.
It is in Yu Shun Yang that the historians place the start of the blister pearl farming (using the Lake Taihu bredd called Cristaria Plicata). The most surprising aspect of that is the similarities of the farming methods used 700 years with modern ones. Farmers of that time were using spheres made of nacre, shrapnel or reshaped lead pieces (generally representing Buddha) for the mollusk’s nucleus.
At the time, the manager of the nucleus’ implantation operation was using dull bamboo sticks to slightly open the mollusk’s shell. The nucleus was then inserted through a tiny path created between the mantle lobe and the shell. Once that the stick is out, the shell would close again and keep the nucleus inside.
Colors and reflections
The color will vary from one pearl to the other and is observed under two criteria : the base color and the shade (it is exceptionally hard to find two similar pearls). The color must be examined on the edges while the shade is to be observed at the Center of the pearl. At Kalinas, we take special care to the color when creating fresh water farmed pearl jewelry.
The pearls can be found in different colors and tints: white, blue, pink, cream, yellow, grey etc… and in a huge range of shades ; white, lavender and apricot are the most sought after tints.
Two specific factors are responsible for the differences in fresh water pearls colors. The first one is correlated to the refraction, which will go through the outer layer of the pearl. The second is caused by the chemical reaction of the microscopic pigments situated in the nacre layer. To evaluate the color accurately, we recommend you use ambient light for your test.
Fresh water pearls production
Who is the largest pearl producer? Even though China, the USA and Japan are all fresh water farmed pearls producers, China has a clear dominance over the market. Since the 1970’s, small Chinese companies have made an appearance on the international market. Since then, their influence has only grown exponentially.
This incredible expansion comes from several factors. The obvious ones are the massive production volume and the Chinese product’s low cost, but the improvement of the production methods allowed a large range of sizes and colors to be offered on the market.
The fresh water pearls companies started by mass producing average and poor-quality pearls, and only improved their product’s quality afterwards, to the point of challenging other types of farmed pearls on the international market.
Farming of fresh water pearls
The companies producing fresh water pearls generally use 10 different breeds of mollusks, the most common ones being Hyriopsis cumingi and Cristaria Plicata. Hyriopsis cumingi is a Chinese breed. Together with Plicata Chrysalis they represent most of the Chinese fresh water pearls. North American farms use the Megalonaias nervosa. Even though many members of the Unionidae family have been tested, the priority has been given to Megalonaias nervosa.
Because of the market’s high demand, Cristaria Plicata is the most used one. The Hyriopsis Cumingi mollusks are generally undergo a graft operation when they are around 6 to 7 months and about 5/6cm in diameter. That process usually happens during the warmest months due to the location of the farming companies.
The first step of the nucleus implantation operation of fresh water pearls consists in collecting a long strip of tissue in mollusk donor, split it in littles squares of 2 to 3 centimeters side length. Then the technician will block the receiver mollusk’s shell by closing the valve with a wedge. Through the small opening created, the technician will make two sets of incisions in the mantle tissue of the first valve in order to insert a fragment of the donor’s tissue in these incisions. After that operation, the wedge is removed and the mollusk will close its shell again and be returned to water.
Types of jewelry made throughout history
Pearls have been coveted and appreciated since the dawn of humanity. The ancient fishermen of Asia adorned themselves with jewels from the precious stones found inside the harvested Mollusk shells. In the ’60s and’ 70s, the jewelry of cultured pearls was considered as an accessory for mature and wealthy women or as an ornament for wives.
However, as the jewelry of cultured pearls was marketed at increasingly affordable prices, this attitude was tending to disappear. For a low price, even a young woman looking for a jewel to wear every day, with her work wardrobe, can leave your shop with a cultured pearl object.
A timeless classic
Necklaces with pearls are very popular in all segments of the market. Multifilament necklaces, made of several rows of freshwater cultured pearls, are highly valued, and as the level of consumer awareness increases, the demand for necklaces with cultured pearls becomes an increasingly coveted object. Some necklace styles have freshwater cultured pearls combined with other precious stones such as amber, lapis, corundum and silver balls. Models with spaced spheres at regular intervals on a silk thread, a wire or a chain remain the most sold items on the international market.
Worn alone or together with a necklace or a pendant, cultured pearl earrings are an essential part of the wardrobe of the majority of women. The classic and most popular styles including the Akoya pearls, freshwater pearls or South Seas mounted on very simple pins.
Most fine jewelry shops have a number of rings mounted with cultured pearls. The most common styles are mounted with Akoya pearls or freshwater pearls on gold or platinum.
Compared to other precious stones, cultured pearls are quite tender. Despite this, with taking the necessary precautions, they can be worn daily without problems. They require a lot of care, so it is advisable not to wear them during manual work, to minimize the risk of damage to the surface.
Pearls for men’s jewelry
Nowadays, cultured pearls are more used to create jewelry for a female audience, but this has not always been the case. In fact, in the course of history, men often wore pearls. In ancient Rome, only emperors and the richest individuals could wear pearls, and their possession by people of lower social rank was even considered illegal. In Europe of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, men and women could adorn themselves with pearl jewelry. Even then, members of certain professions were not allowed to wear ornaments or necklaces with pearls.
How to choose freshwater pearls?
If you want to buy freshwater pearls, you will evaluate different qualities, colors and sizes, In addition to the price, there are many other aspects to consider. Do not rush for the purchase but first learn to compare pearls based on the type, size, color and quality of the surface.
The size of a freshwater pearl
The size may vary depending on several factors: the size of the implant used in the transplant process, the culture period and the type of oyster that produced the pearl. Pearls are measured in millimeters perpendicular to the axis of symmetry. In general, the larger pearls are also the most expensive. The classic size is 7 mm.
The different colors
The classic white cream close to pink should highlight lighter complexions. Black or gray pearls are suitable for all skin types, while silver pearls are perfect for dark skin.
The surface quality of a cultured pearl
Make sure the pearl does not show visible bumps, scratches, or color variations.
How to know if it’s a real pearl?
Are you planning to buy a pearl jewel? Here are some simple tests that allow you to understand in a few minutes whether they are real or fake pearls. Learn immediately to look for and perceive the characteristics of a real pearl so you do not run the risk of buying a wrong one.
a) Rub the pearl against an incisor. Hold one or two pearls between your thumb and forefinger and gently squeeze the chewing surface of the tooth with a horizontal motion. A real pearl should have a rough and slightly gritty consistency with small flake-like imperfections on the outer surface of the nacre. Fake glass or plastic pearls are almost always too perfect and smooth.
b) Rub the gems together. Hold a couple in your fingers and create friction between them. You should feel a slight feeling of friction. Real pearls create this feeling because the outer layers of the nacre have small imperfections that prevent them from flowing smoothly. At the end of the test, watch your hands carefully. When you rub pearls, and if they are pierced, tiny particles of nacre come bursting out. If you notice a white residue, dusty and very fine on your fingers, it is very likely that it is nacre’s powder, so they are real jewels.
c) Check if the pearls are perfectly round. As a product of nature, each real pearl is slightly different, just like snowflakes or fingerprints. Many of them are not perfectly spherical: they are often oval or with small defects. If the pearls you are analyzing are perfectly round and similar, there is a good chance that they are artificial.
d) Test the feeling of cold to the touch. For this exam, you need some gems that have not been worn for a while. Hold them in one hand and focus on the warmth of the skin. Real pearls are cold and need a few seconds to warm up. The feeling is similar to walking barefoot on a marble floor.
a) Look for the small imperfections. As previously written, real pearls are rarely “perfect”. They generally carry small flaws or irregularities in their shape. The outside nacre layer can also reflect light in different ways, from one point to another. Imitations are usually “too perfect”: they are perfectly spherical with a uniform glow on the surface, and bear no flaws or irregularities.
b) Make sure the glow matches the requirements for clarity and intensity. The glow is the characteristic that jewelers use to describe how light is reflected on a precious stone: it contributes to the beauty of the gem. Good quality pearls have an intense and clear glow, which makes them shine when hit by the light. If you look closer, you can see your reflection on the bead.
c) Check for the sheen. The price for authentic and good quality pearls is often precisely determined by their sheen. This indicates the amount of light visible on the gem when being lit. Fake pearls generally have no sheen (a property difficult to emulate). For this reason, if the sample seems to exhibit shining glints when placed under a source of light, be aware that it is very probably a treasure.
Shapes and sizes of fresh water pearls
The dimensions of cultured pearls are measured with precision gauges, capable to measure the diameter of a pearl in hundredths of millimeters.
Calibration is a fundamental step for the selection and classification of cultured pearls: the bigger the pearl, the higher its commercial value. To understand this mechanism, we need to consider that the size of cultured pearls is determined by a wealth of variables (climate, how long they stay underwater, the plankton’s nutritional quality, etc…). In any case, making a very large pearl is always difficult for the oyster, no matter the species.
Cultured pearls come in many shapes, divided for commercial reasons into regular shapes (spherical, semi-spherical, button, drop, oval) and irregular shapes (baroque and ringed). Shape is a very important factor for cultured pearls’ evaluation: the more symmetrical a pearl, the higher its value. The shape of cultured pearls is dictated by the randomness of nature, and only a certain percentage of the culture (different depending on the variety) will feature a perfectly spherical shape.
For salt water cultured pearls such as the Akoya, the Southern Sea or the Tahiti kind, the grafting of a round rigid nucleus favors the steady growth of the pearl, whereas for fresh water pearls without a nucleus, shapes tend to be more irregular. We present to you, below, the different shapes and sizes for fresh water pearls.
Spherical pearls with a perfectly round shape. Natural spherical pearls are very rare, whereas cultured pearls, and especially the Akoya ones, often possess a perfect roundness.
Semi-spherical. Near-round pearls or natural spherical pearls have a minimal diameter difference comprised between 2% and 5%. Often, semi-spherical pearls already mounted on a jewel appear to the spherical pearl observer.
Cultured button pearls, or natural buttoned and flattened pearls. They are mainly used for earrings and rings because they have no edges, hence are more discreet.
Cultured or natural drop-shaped pearls. Perfect pearls are highly sought-after and expensive, in the industry lingo they are called natural drop-shaped pearls, characterized by an elongated, not-too-flat shape.
Cultured or natural pearls that possess a shape similar to an egg, the upper part being symmetrical to the lower part. Oval pearls particularly proportioned are very popular.
Baroque cultured or natural pearls, of irregular and undefined shape. Generally, baroque pearls have lower prices and are used in the modelization of artistic jewelry, with imaginative and creative designs. They are also called Scaramazze pearls.
Cultured or natural pearls with a regular shape are characterized by highly visible or simply suggested rings. They are part of some of the cheapest pearls on the market, along with the baroque ones.