A trip to Hawaii would not be complete, without experiencing firsthand, the raw beauty and luster of freshwater pearl jewelry. Freshwater pearls are one of the most prized kinds of jewelry, because of they are a valuable and exotic form of ornamentation, yet at remarkably low market prices. Freshwater pearls occur naturally in mussels and oysters that live in rivers, lakes and ponds, and they tend to be more irregular in shape and more varied in color than pearls found in saltwater oysters. the same way that saltwater pearls occur in oysters. Usually a sharp foreign object enters a mussel and cannot be removed by the oyster. To reduce irritation, the mollusk coats the intruder with the same secretion it uses for shell-building, known as “nacre.”
Cultured freshwater pearls are created in the same manner, however the only difference is that this process is started by human workers who open the oyster’s shell, cut small slits into the mantle tissue inside both sides of the oyster shell, and insert small pieces of live mantle tissue from another mussel into those slits. In freshwater mussels that insertion alone is sufficient to start nacre production. Most cultured freshwater pearls are composed entirely of nacre, just like their natural freshwater and natural saltwater counterparts.
The first cultured freshwater pearls originated in Japan, at the famous Lake Biwa, and as a result the Japanese are credited with being the first to succeed in cultivating freshwater pearls on a commercial basis, although freshwater pearls in the shape of Buddha had been cultured in China as far back as the 13th century. Quite soon after their initial success with cultured saltwater pearls. Almost instantly appealing, their lustre and luminescent depth rivaled naturals because they, too, were pearls throughout. Since this time, China has become the world’s foremost producer of freshwater pearls, and since 1991, the quality and size of freshwater pearls produced in China has increased significantly. Since 1992, semi-round Chinese freshwater pearls made their appearance in the commercial market and now offer an attractive, lower-priced alternative to expensive Akoya pearls and South Sea pearls.
Freshwater pearls are normally graded by Hawaii jewelers and other tropical jewelers based on the following criteria:
The higher and more even the luster of a freshwater pearl, the greater its value. In high-quality freshwater pearls, there is an evenly distributed luster and a high contrast between the light and dark areas of the pearls. When judging freshwater pearls for luster, it helps to examine them on a white background so that you can identify the true luster of the pearl.
The smoother the pearl, the more valuable it is. Even though occasional bumps or wrinkles may be founds in pearls, these are not normally considered flaws, but rather part of the unique makeup of the individual pearl being examined.
Size & Weight
Contrary to popular belief, the size or weight of a freshwater pearl is not nearly as important of a price factor as its luster and surface quality. Freshwater pearl prices are generally quoted by weight or by the strand. The size of freshwater pearls may be expressed by their diameter, measured in millimeters.
Usually the more round a freshwater pearl is, the greater its value. Good symmetry, as well, can make a particular freshwater pearl more valuable. Most freshwater pearls are either round or baroque-shaped. The thinner the pearl, the lower price the pearl usually is, compared to thicker pearls.
Obvious blemishes such as discoloration, pits and cavities can decrease the value of a freshwater pearl, however, flaws in freshwater pearls are normally not very noticeable, due to their baroque shapes. As a result, surface imperfections tend to have less of an effect on the value of freshwater pearls than on those of saltwater pearls.
Freshwater pearls come in a wide variety of colors - white, pink, orange, yellow, lavender, copper, green, gray, bluish-black, peach, brown and white. Most freshwater pearl dealers would agree on three (3) things:
a) the body color of a freshwater pearl does not affect the price of freshwater pearls as much as it does that of saltwater pearls.
b) the presence of overtone colors such as pink and silver make the freshwater pearl much more valuable because of their unique coloration created by a largely natural process from the development of the nacre by the oyster.
c) iridescence of a freshwater pearl increases the value of freshwater pearls. Iridescence is the rainbow hue appearance when you view a freshwater pearl in the light, and iridescence and luster are interrelated when it comes to freshwater pearls.
Despite the exacting criteria used by jewelry professionals to evaluate freshwater pearls and freshwater pearl jewelry, many Hawaii visitors often visit the islands of paradise, ill-equipped to identify the freshwater pearl jewelry that meets or exceeds these standards. For this reason, it is important that you first consider each of these pieces of information before making your purchase decision, and if possible keep this information in mind before you even travel to Hawaii. Once you get there, you'll be ready to shop for freshwater pearls that you will be comfortable owning for a very long time, and to display to your friends and family when you get back home. If for any reason you can't make the trip to Hawaii, please keep in mind that there are a number of online Hawaii retailers who specialize in freshwater pearls, and who will ship them directly to you.