Thursday, 18 April 2013

What are Freshwater Pearls?

Freshwater Pearls are created using fresh water mussels who live in a non-saline water found in lakes, rivers and ponds.  The pearls are produced mainly in China using a farming technique.  Japan and the US can produce them too, but on a much smaller scale and pollution has played an unfortunate part in the demise of the industry in these areas.
Freshwater Pearl Beads (white/cream)

When produced on a large scale Freshwater Pearls have to be referred to as ‘fresh water cultured pearls’ as stipulated by the US Federal Trade Commission.

China is believed to have harvested pearls from as early as the 13th Century and now produces 1500 tons of the freshwater pearls with the Hyriopsis cumingii mussel and several hybrids.  Outside of Asia, a pearl farm in Tennassee was able to cultivate the freshwater pearls.  However this became unsustainable and is now a tourist attraction. 

The farming technique is a process involving the grafting of a donor mussel carried out by a technician, this can be carried out up to 50 times per shell.   The Chinese prefer to use the triangle shell which is the Hyriopsis as although the volume of pearls are lower, they are considered of better quality.   The molluscs are returned to the fresh water where they are tended for 2 – 6 years.
Technicians using the traditional farming
technique (pic courtesy of Wikipedia)

More information on the freshwater pearl industry can be found on the forum of,  'Innovation continues in Chinese Freshwater Pearl Culture'.

How are they processed?

At a first-stage factory the harvested pearls  are cleaned and sorted by size and shape.  At the processing factory they are pre-treated in a warm and cold chemical solution and bleached.  If the pearls have a strong colour, they do not get bleached.  The pearls are then drilled and polished with a wax and cornmeal mixture.  To keep the pearls in good condition for onwards sale they are placed onto temporary strands and matched into hanks (a composition of 5 – 10 temporary strands).

What is their appeal?

Freshwater Pearls appear in a wide variety of natural colours and shapes.  They are less expensive than the salt water variety and are popular with young people and designers because of this.  They are solid and durable, giving a longer life with more resistance to chipping, wear and tear.

Freshwater Pearls (silver/grey)

For a wide variety of freshwater pearls at International Craft and more information, CLICK HERE

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