Fresh water cultured pearls
These pearls can be identified through their irregular shape, wide range of colours.
In the 13th Century the Chinese discovered a method of breeding these pearls by using mud, wood, bone or metal to encourage pearl growth.
Similar attempts were made in Japan but they didn’t have any notable success until 1924. Exports to India, China and England commenced in the 1930’s.
In 1946 the first unseeded fresh-water pearls were bred which increased yields and brought about world-wide popularity. Fresh-water pearls can reach about 20mm diameter without the need for a nucleus or mantel fibre, whereas oceanic pearls cannot be produced in the same way. The host pearls are known as Ikecho or hyriopsis schlegeli and in 15 years they can grow to about 20-30cm, much larger than Akoya oysters for example.
A period of three years goes by before first harvest and during this time the mussels are kept in cages in water that’s about 2 to 3 meters deep. The mussels are then also good for a second or even third harvest without further intervention. The number of pearls formed though does decrease and they are usually flatter in shape but their colour is usually more intense. By the third harvest the quality and quantity of the pearls are further greatly reduced.
Nowadays, the pearls harvested are between 2mm and 5mm, larger pearls, known as dragons, sticks, doublets or triplets are now quite rare. Even the colour tones are reduced and they can now be found in predominantly white, pink, cream, light and dark orange hues.
Nevertheless, these fresh-water cultured pearls are still immensely popular. Their versatility lends them to be fashioned into exclusive and unique pieces of jewellery.