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Freshwater Pearls & Saltwater Pearls

pink freshwater pearlsFreshwater cultured pearl is a general term for any pearl cultivated in a lake, pond or river area.

The Japanese, at Lake Biwa, are credited with being the first to succeed in cultivating freshwater pearls on a commercial basis although freshwater pearls in the shape of Buddha were cultured in China as far back as the thirteenth century. The technical roots of cultivating freshwater pearls are attributed to Masayo Fujita, the "father of freshwater pearl cultivation"

Most freshwater pearls today are produced in China. Their quality has been steadily improving since 1991 and their sizes have been increasing. At the end of 1992, semi-round Chinese freshwater pearls made their appearance on the market and now offer an attractive, lower-priced alternative to the round Akoya pearls. Some of the larger pearls are even becoming substitutes to South Sea pearls.

The cultured freshwater pearls are now being cultivated with a shell bead nucleus. This freshwater pearl cultivating technique usually produces twenty or more pearls in one oyster. Their nacre is able to be thicker due to the fact they are left in the mollusks for over two years.

Although freshwater cultured pearls are more or less bleached, dyed or treated, they really fascinate people with a wide variety of colors such as white, black, pink, gold, lavender and shapes like round, button, marquise, drops, coins, tadpoles, domes and bars.

golden saltwater pearlsCultured seawater pearls are always farmed in saltwater and grown in oysters at the depth of sea. Only one pearl is grown per oyster. This process is more expensive than for freshwater pearls. Countries and areas known as producers of saltwater pearls are the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the coastal waters of China, Japan, Thailand, India, Burma, Indonesia, and Philippines in Southeast Asia, as well as Australia and Tahiti in the South Pacific.

The Differences

Generally, saltwater pearls are higher in quality than freshwater pearls.

Freshwater pearls are all pearl -- this is a big selling point for freshwater pearls. Because there is no hard nucleus inserted in freshwater pearls, freshwater pearls are almost all nacre.

The nacre coating of Japanese Akoya pearls is about a half-millimeter thick.

The nacre coating of Tahitian pearls is about 2 to 3 millimeters thick.

South Sea pearls develop the thickest coating from 2 to 6 millimeters.

white south sea pearl ring, south sea pearl ringOnly South Sea pearls have a nacre coating as thick as that of freshwater pearls. However, for South Sea pearls to have the same thickness of nacre coating as a 10mm freshwater pearl, it should be 18mm in size. You will have to spend a small fortune to buy it too. It only costs a small fraction of the same money to buy a 10mm, top quality freshwater pearl.

Freshwater pearls are especially attractive since they come in a fantastic variety of colors and shapes. Many of these colors and shapes are not found in saltwater pearls.

South Sea pearls and Tahitian pearls take 2 to 3 years to form. Japanese Akoya pearls take a shorter period--less than 2 years. Longer cultivation periods can make freshwater pearls that are much larger in size and higher in quality, but frequently the shorter time leads to the lower quality of freshwater pearls.

Clearly, the surface and luster make the quality image of freshwater pearls lower than that of seawater pearls.

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