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Freshwater pearls cover a wider range of color and shape than any other pearl type. Originally these pearls were marketed as a lower quality, inexpensive alternative to Akoya pearls. For this reason, jewelry designers traditionally used freshwater pearls for pieces that favored design over the gems themselves. However, since the 1990s, a class of freshwater pearls that are round and lustrous have emerged which rival Akoya pearls in both quality and value. Freshwater pearls cover the widest range of options for pearl buyers in size, shape and color.
Freshwater Pearl Culturing
Most freshwater pearls that are produced today come from the Hyriopsis Cumingi (triangle shell) species. This species yield higher quality pearls than the C. Plicata species, which was used throughout the 1980s.
Unlike cultured saltwater pearls, freshwater pearls are not bead-nucleated and are therefore typically less round. Instead of using a bead, a small square of mantle tissue is cut from a donor mussel's inner lining and inserted into the lining of the harvesting mussel to instigate pearl formation.
The unique harvesting technique makes freshwater pearls purely composed of nacre. Nacre is the biological term used to describe the mother of pearl substance that gives pearls their distinguishing glow. It also is one of the main value factors for grading all pearl types. Because cultured saltwater pearls are bead nucleated, their nacre thickness ranges between 0.2 mm and 4.0mm.
Freshwater Pearl Characteristics
The unique culturing method also means that freshwater mussels will never produce a perfectly round pearl. When beads are used in nucleation, rounder pearls accumulate much easier. This has historically been the largest trade off between tissue nucleated and bead nucleated. Tissue-nucleated freshwater pearls are more natural and composed purely of nacre; Bead nucleated saltwater pearls have superior shape and create more uniform strands of pearls.
Only two percent of all freshwater pearls are round or near round. Though this number seems quite small, the abundance of freshwater pearls is much greater than other pearl types. Each freshwater mussel will produce up to 40 pearls, whereas one saltwater mollusk usually only produces one or two pearls.
The most common shape in freshwater pearls is oval or button shaped (sixty percent). Thirty-eight percent are Baroque and Semi-baroque. Almost all Freshwater pearls come from China. Since the 1990s, Freshwater pearl quality has steadily increased. Though you never will have a perfectly round Freshwater pearl, the likelihood of finding a quality near round pearl is much greater today.
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