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The Freshwater Pearl Buyer's Guide

Freshwater Pearls 101 - Buying Guide

Fun, feminine and so very affordable, the Freshwater pearl is on the fast-track to become the world’s most interesting and ever-changing pearl type. The Freshwater Pearl Buyer’s Guide from the pearl experts at PearlsofJoy.com is here to answer all your questions about these colorful pearls. From the pearl farms to their dazzling array of colors to learning how to grade and evaluate each freshwater pearl grade … all your questions will be answered here.

Freshwater Pearl Basics

Cultured Freshwater pearls are widely known for their pastel natural colors, unique overtones and incredibly wide variety of shapes and sizes. Freshwater pearls are also loved for their affordability and durability, making them a great choice for any one new to pearls and even established collectors.

Freshwater Pearl Basics - What You Need to Know

Freshwater Pearl Fact Sheet

  • Small to Moderately Large Sizes: Freshwater pearls traditionally range from small 3.0mm pearls to 12.0 mm sizes. Very large sizes have come onto the market within the past few years for specialty Freshwater pearls using new cultivation techniques … these pearls are known as “Edison” pearls and regularly attain 15.0 mm and 16.0 mm sizes, rivaling the famed South Sea pearls from Australia.
  • Irregular Shapes: very rarely are Freshwater pearls perfectly round in shape. Most often, these pearls are off-round, oval-shaped and even potato-shaped. Many other shapes exist, but for fine jewelry purposes, we will stick with these.
  • Rainbow of Natural Colors: Freshwater pearls are famous for their completely natural colors of Pink, Peach, Lavender and White. Other natural colors have been spotted recently at specialty pearl shows overseas, but for the most part these four pearl colors are what you’ll encounter today.
  • Satin-Like Luster: Freshwater pearls display a softer, more “satiny” luster than their saltwater counterparts like the Akoya pearl. This means more blurry reflections, and appear to emanate a subtle glow rather than a ball-bearing shine.
  • Freshwater Pearl Type: Freshwater pearls are cultured pearl type in the hyriopsis cumingii freshwater pearl mussel in China.

How Valuable Are Freshwater Pearls?

Freshwater pearls are appreciated for their modest price points, while still being able to offer incredible beauty and a luxury-style pearl necklace or pair of earrings that everyone is sure to love wearing. For affordability and versatility, Freshwater pearls are hard to match.

Freshwater Pearl Value

Freshwater Pearl Jewelry Value Chart

Our Most Popular Freshwater Pearls

Where Do Freshwater Pearls Come From?

Freshwater pearls have been prized in China for centuries … examples exist today of some of the first attempts at culturing pearls by the Chinese, who would drill through the mussel’s shell and then attach a metal or porcelain form (the smiling Buddha was a popular figure) to the inside of the shell and allowing the mussel to do its work, coating the form in pearly nacre.

Freshwater Pearl Farming in China

Cultured Freshwater pearl farmers in China checking on their mollusks. Most Freshwater pearl farms are family-owned and operated, and the freshwater ponds support a wide variety of aquatic lifesuch as fish, ducks and assorted birds, eels, turtles and more.

Today cultured Freshwater pearls are grown in large freshwater ponds and lakes located in China. These are usually small, family-owned farms and collectives ...however there are a few larger "corporate" style farms in operation.

The Freshwater pearl mussel can grow up to 25 pearls on each side of its shell … so yearly pearl harvests are bountiful affairs! The majority of Freshwater pearls are "tissue-nucleated". That means that a small piece of donor mantle tissueis used to nucleate the mussel. The tiny square of tissueis implanted inside the mussel, which forms a pearl sac around the irritant.Gradually the irritantis coated in layers of nacre, forming a pearl.

Inside the mussel, the tissue square degrades while the pearl forms around it. This means the pearl structure is solid nacre,similar to a wild pearl. This is as close as many shoppers can come to buying a natural pearl formed in the wild. Its solid-nacre formation also means that Freshwater pearls are very tough and durable ... much more than some other pearl types.

Pearls typically take about 2-3 years to grow, and are then harvested in an eye-popping array of natural pinks, peaches, lavender and white colors.  

Some of the larger pearl farming companies have been concentrating on developing new cultivation techniques, and are busily making headway in bringing new, very rare and very beautiful pearl types to market such as large Edison pearls, Soufflés, Fireballs, Ripples and more.

It’s a very exciting time to be a Freshwater pearl collector!

Freshwater versus Akoya Pearls

For decades now a major debate among pearl lovers and first-time buyers is: Freshwater or Akoya pearls? Which are the best pearls to buy?

The answer here is … it depends.

Check out the slideshow below for a quick visual overview on the differences between these two pearl types, and we’ll get a bit more in-depth on the specifics below.

Akoya vs Freshwater Pearls: Ge3m Quality Freszhwater Pearls are Comparable

AAAA Grade Freshwater pearls in the 7 mm range. The AAAA Quality Collection pearls compare extremely favorably to the saltwater Akoya pearls in terms of luster and nearly perfectly round shapes.

Freshwater vs Akoya pearls - AA+ Quality Freshatere Pearls are Off-Round

AA+ quality Freshwater pearls close-up … luster is still very high, but notice the off-round and potato shapes.

Freshwater vs Akoya Pearls: Akoya Pearl Close Up

Fine quality Akoya pearls are perfectly round in shape and display excellent luster in both AA+ and AAA qualities.

Freshater vs Akoya Pearls: Colorful Freshater Pearls Offer Variety

Freshwater pearls have a pretty cool advantage over any other pearl type, and that’s the sheer variety of colors, shapes and sizes.

Freshwater vs Akoya Comparison Guide

Shape: Freshwater pearls feature a variety of shapes, ranging from nearly perfectly round AAAA Grade pearls to slightly off-round, ovals, potato shapes, drops and funky free-form baroques. Saltwater Akoya pearls are usually perfectly round in all pearl grades.

Luster: Freshwater pearls generally feature a softer, more “satiny” luster that tends to be visibly more diffuse around the edges of reflected light sources. Akoya pearls display very sharp and bright luster, even in some of the lower qualities.

Sizes: Freshwater and Akoya pearls both have a comparable size range, but Freshwater pearls can get even larger than the Akoya by a few sizes. Both pearl types start at 2.0 – 3.0 mm and range up to 9.5 and 10.0 mm, but that’s where the Akoya pearls top out. Freshwater pearls keep going, and traditionally nucleated pearls reach sizes of 11.0 – 12.0 mm, and newer bead nucleated varieties can get up to 15.0 – 16.0 mm – very similar to the size range of South Sea pearls.

Colors: Freshwater and Akoya pearls are both available in traditional white body colors with classic overtones of rose, silver and cream.

Blemishes:Freshwater pearl blemishes are usually white “chalky” spots, subtle ridges, tiny pin pricks and small, streak-like score marks. Akoya pearl blemishes also include subtle white “chalky” spots and tiny pin prick-like inclusions, but also include flat spots, wrinkling in the nacre. Keep in mind that both the Akoya and Freshwater pearl’s inclusions are pretty small, and should only be visible upon careful inspection.

Prices: Freshwater pearls are generally less expensive than Akoya pearls, by a factor of 20-50%, depending on the pearl quality and size. Akoya pearls are generally considered to be a luxury pearl type, and yearly harvest amounts are dwarfed in comparison to Freshwater pearls, so are generally more expensive.

The bottom line …

Choose Freshwater pearls if you are looking for a “first pearls” white pearl necklace for younger ladies, or you’d like pearls that can be worn every day without worrying about wear and tear. The Freshwater pearl’s budget friendly prices and rainbow of colors allow pearl lovers everywhere to experiment with new looks, pearl design styles and custom designs without breaking the bank.  

Choose Akoya pearls if you’re looking for luxury style pearl jewelry with perfectly round pearls that are perfectly matched, and shines with highly reflective luster. The higher price tag is definitely worth it for those who are only looking for those particular attributes in their pearls.

Shop Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater Pearl Grading

PearlsofJoy.com uses the A - AAAA Grading System to evaluate cultured Freshwater pearls. On the A – AAAA Scale, “AAAA” represents the highest pearl quality and pearl grades gradually step down to “A”, which is the lowest (usually commercial quality) pearl grade available.

Click on any grade on the accordion below to view a picture of each grade, and a detailed breakdown of each rank.

Jewelers and appraisers use “7 Value Factors” to evaluate and grade pearls. Five of those factors are used to determine a pearl’s grade on the A – AAAA Grading Scale.

Freshwater Pearl Value Factors Are:

  • Surface Quality
  • Luster
  • Shape
  • Matching
  • Nacre Thickness (if applicable)

AAAA Quality

Shape: Very Near True Round, Extremely Small Deviation from True Round Allowable

Surface Quality: 95-99% Clean to the Eye. Necklace will appear clean to the eye upon casual inspection. Close inspection will reveal shallow inclusions less than 5% of total strand.

Luster: Excellent / Very Sharp. Detailed Reflections Visible in Surfaces

Matching: Near-Perfect to Perfect for Size, Shape, Body Color, Overtone, Surface Quality and Luster

Nacre Thickness: Solid Nacre

AAA Quality

Freshwater Pearl Grading: AAA Quality Pearls

Shape: Slightly Off-Round to Very Slightly Off-Round

Surface Quality: 95% Clean to the Eye. Close inspection will reveal shallow inclusions less than 5% of total strand, 1-2 Deep Inclusions Allowable.

Luster: Very High / Good Detailed Reflections Visible in Surfaces

Matching: Very Good Matching for Size, Shape, Body Color, Overtone, Surface Quality and Luster

Nacre Thickness: Solid Nacre

AA Quality

Freshwater Pearl Grading: AA+ Quality Pearls

Shape: Visibly Off-Round to Oval Shapes

Surface Quality: 90% Clean to the Eye. Inspection will reveal shallow inclusions less than 10% of total strand, 2-3 Deeper Inclusions Allowable.

Luster: High to Very High / Good Detailed Reflections Visible in Surfaces

Matching: Good for Size, Shape, Body Color, Overtone, Surface Quality and Luster, Some Slight Variation in Size and Shape is Normal

Nacre Thickness: Solid Nacre

AA Quality

Freshwater Pearl Grading: AA Quality Pearls

Shape: Visibly Off-Round to Oval Shapes

Surface Quality: 80% Clean to the Eye. Inspection will reveal shallow inclusions less than 20% of total strand, Deeper Inclusions Allowable.

Luster: Good to Dull / Visibly Blurred Reflections May Be Visible in Surfaces

Matching: Fair for Size, Shape, Body Color, Overtone, Surface Quality and Luster, Visible Variation in Size and Shape is Normal

Nacre Thickness: Solid Nacre

A Quality

Freshwater Pearl Grading: A Quality Pearls

Shape: Visibly Off-Round to Oval Shapes

Surface Quality: 60-70% Clean to the Eye. Easily Visible Blemishing Throughout

Luster: Dull / Visibly Blurred Reflections

Matching: Fair for Size, Shape, Body Color, Overtone, Surface Quality and Luster, Visible Variation in Size and Shape is Normal

Nacre Thickness: Solid Nacre

Freshwater Pearl Grading: Video Tutorial

Founder and president, Kevin Canning shows you AA, AAA and AAAA quality pearls up close and personal:

Freshwater Pearl Sizes

Freshwater Pearl Sizes Compared to US Nickel

Freshwater pearls are a small to large-sized pearl type, and are very versatile for everyday wear or special occasions. Sizes generally range from 2.0 – 3.0 mm up through 11.0 – 12.0 mm, and as mentioned earlier, in some cases even larger.

The most popular size range ranges from 6.0 – 7.0 mm up through 9.0 -9.5 mm, with many shoppers considering the 7.0 - 8.0 mm size to be the best choice for freshwater necklaces and freshwater earrings.

The Perfect Strand of Pearls

AAAA Grade Freshwater Pearls

Beauty and value ... a match made in heaven.

AAAA Grade Freshwater pearl necklaces are strung with individually chosen pearls, meticulously matched to create the perfect pearl necklace. These pearl necklaces are the epitome of class and sophistication. The bright luster and roundness of these pearls rival even high quality Akoyas.

Freshwater Pearl Shapes

At this point, it should be pretty obvious that Freshwater pearls are infamous for their off-round and oval shapes. Perfectly round pearls account for a tiny percentage of Freshwater pearls at harvest, and are more highly sought after and valued than any other shape today.

Use the slideshow to view examples of the most common, and the most interesting Freshwater pearl shapes available today:

Pearl SHapes: Rare Perfectly Round Metallic Freshwater Pearls

Perfectly round (and extremely rare) Metallic Edison Freshwater pearls … for your viewing pleasure.

Freshwater Pearl Shapes: Very Near Round

Near-round Freshwater pearls are most common in the AAA Grade.

Freshwater Pearl Shapes: Visibly Off-ROund

Slightly off-round to visibly off-round AA quality pearls … you can really see that oval shape here.

Freshwater Pearl Shapes: Smooth Drop Shapes

Smooth drop-shape pearls can be tear drops or more barrel shaped.

Freshwater Pearl Shapes: Baroque

Here we have free-form, heavily baroque Soufflé Freshwater pearls. Luster and orient can get very intense with these shapes as light gets reflected back to us at uneven angles.

Freshwater Pearl Colors

Traditionally, Freshwater pearls are available in natural shades of pink and peach, white and lavender colors.

Black Freshwater pearls are the results of a color-treatment process, typically dye, but can also receive radiation treatments to achieve its colors. The pearls are a very dark, black body color with intense "Peacock" overtones of blue-green, rose, gold, dark blues and more.

The Most Common Freshwater Pearl Colors

The traditional Freshwater pearl colors are white, pink, peach, lavender and black.

Freshwater Pearl Colors: White

Classic white pearls are always an excellent choice … especially for those new to pearls.

Multi-color pearl necklaces are a very common staple of Freshwater pearl jewelry. A typical Multi-color strand will feature pink, peach, white and lavender pearls in varying patterns.

Black freshwater pearls can be an intense blue-green color as shown above, or a multi-hued and intense peacock coloration featuring shades of green, teal, gold and rose hues.

Freshwater Pearl Overtones

For both all white pearl types, Freshwater, Akoya and White South Sea pearls, the traditional overtones are silver, rose and cream. The term “overtone” is used by jewelers to describe a secondary, transparent color that floats over the main body color of the pearl (white, in this case).  

White Freshwater Pearl Overtones

White Freshwater Pearl Overtone FAQs

  • Silver overtones are best described as a bright white shimmering sheen. The silver overtone is incredibly popular because it appears close to what most shoppers have in mind when they’re thinking about purchasing white pearl jewelry.
  • Rose overtones are traditionally the most popular and classic of all three overtones. Mikimoto Pearls specializes in rose, as the founder himself felt that the pink overtone was the most flattering to females of all skin tones.
  • Cream overtones look like a warm yellow tinge of color and gives white pearls a vintage, classic appeal. Redheads, older women with grey or silver hair and women with pink undertones to their complexions pair best with the cream overtone.

Caring for Freshwater Pearls

How to Care for Freshwater Pearls

Maintaining your new Freshwater pearl jewelry beautiful is easy, but there are a few rules to follow to ensure your pearls will stay lustrous and their colors true and vibrant for decades to come …

Freshwater Pearl Care Tips

Pearls on Last: make sure that your pearl jewelry is the last part of your outfit you put on. This is after all cosmetics, perfumes, hairspray, etc., and then the pearls can be added. This gives the pearls a chance to avoid being exposed to any chemicals and possibly discoloring over time.

After Care: after you’re done wearing your pearls for the day, it’s a good practice to wipe them down with a soft, slightly damp cloth. This helps remove any residues like sweat, oil or other chemicals they may have picked up from the day.

Storing Necklaces: it’s best to lay your necklaces down flat in your jewelry box rather than hang them on a hook when you’re done wearing them, as this stops the silk knotting from stretching out in between each pearl. Pearls should be stored away from other jewelry with sharp metal components to prevent surface scratches.  

Restring Your Pearls: another great way to keep your pearl necklaces and bracelets looking their best is to get them professionally restrung once a year to once every two – three years or so, depending on often you wear them. Restringing your pearls keeps the knots fresh, tight and non-frayed.

Avoid Swimming and Showers: while pearls were born in the water, modern additives like chlorine is really not ideal for pearls. In addition to possibly discoloring the pearls due to repeated, long-term exposure, the chemicals in the water also eat holes in the adhesives used to secure pearl pendants, earrings and rings to their mountings. Remove your pearl ring and set it in a safe place before washing your hands or doing the dishes as well.

Avoid Harsh Chemical Exposure: other chemicals can also harm your delicate pearls … avoid exposure to hydrogen peroxide, chemical bleaches and other dyes.

📢 Read More: Pearl Care Basics

Freshwater Pearl Jewelry Style Guide      

There’s never been a better time to buy Freshwater pearls. Today’s Freshwater pearl jewelry designs offer a stunning array of options for the modern pearl lover … from the time-honored classic single strand necklaces to diamond-accented pendants, earrings and pearl rings, Pearls of Joy has something for everyone to enjoy. Use the slideshow to view our most popular and treasured pearls.

Freshwater pearl necklaces never fail to dazzle. Enjoy timelessly classic single strand pearl necklaces, luxurious double and triple-strands and long, beautiful pearl ropes. Every pearl necklace from Pearls of Joy is double-knotted by hand between each pearl for security, and finished with a 14kt gold clasp of your choice. Shop Freshwater pearl necklaces here.

A pair of Freshwater pearl earrings from Pearls of Joy are sure to be treasured forever. Choose from white, pink, lavender and daring black pearl earrings. Every pair of pearl earrings are professionally matched for size, color, overtone, shape and luster, ensuring that your pearl earrings are perfectly matched and dazzlingly elegant. Shop for Freshwater pearl earrings here.

Freshwater pearl bracelets are a colorful and unique way to add a touch of affordable beauty and style to any wrist. Pearls of Joy offers pearl bracelets in single and double strand styles, in every color available. Shop for Freshwater pearl bracelets here.

Showcase your love of pearls with a delicate and unique Freshwater pearl ring. Pearls of Joy offers a lovely collection of pearl rings from slim solitaires to luxurious diamond-accented designs, perfect for gracing any woman’s finger. Shop Freshwater pearl rings here.

Everything you want, nothing you don’t! A Freshwater pearl jewelry set is the gold standard in pearl luxury … Enjoy shopping for the classic single strand necklace, bracelet and earring 3-piece sets in white, pink, peach, black and fun, flirty multi-color pearl designs, and perfectly matched 2-piece pendant and earring sets. We have something for everyone to love. Shop for Freshwater pearl jewelry sets here.

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