Pearls are gemstones that are popularly used in jewellery items such as necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Pearls have been sought after for centuries as women love wearing pearls. The reason behind this is they are delicate in appearance, beautiful to look at and are a natural product.
Pearls are found in both saltwater and in freshwater, or more specifically within molluscs that reside in sea or in freshwater sources such as in lakes and rivers. They are composed of layers of calcium carbonate and are produced when an irritating microscopic foreign object becomes trapped within the mollusc’s mantle folds. The mollusc coats the irritant with a substance called nacre that is the calcium carbonate component with which it also builds its shell. These layers of nacre build up to make a pearl.
Pearls should ideally be perfectly round and smooth without pits or blemishes, but there are many other shapes in which pearls can be found. The finest quality natural pearls are highly valued and the word pearl has become synonymous for something very rare, interesting, fine, marvellous, and valuable throughout history. There is a saying “The pearl is the queen of gems and the gem of queens”. However, the great majority of these “pearls” are not valued as gemstones.
The most valuable pearls are extremely rare and are wild rather than cultivated or farmed, which is now the common production method. These wild pearls are often referred to as natural pearls. As they have been unfortunately searched and used exceedingly by man there have not been any natural pearls on the market for the last 100 years or so.
What makes up the majority of pearls that are currently sold in the market are actually farmed pearls from pearl oysters and freshwater mussels. They look similar despite their different sources. There are also imitation pearls that are manufactured to be sold as inexpensive jewellery and are widely available on the market. These artificial pearls can be easily distinguished from real pearls.
Freshwater pearls form in various species of freshwater mussels, which are part of the Unionidae family. These live in lakes, rivers, and ponds. Although most freshwater pearls sold today come from China, say around 96 per cent of the total amount, it can also be found in most countries regardless of climate. They are generally less expensive than similar sized cultured pearls which are grown in saltwater but their lower price doesn’t necessarily reflect a lower quality. In fact, some high quality freshwater pearls are very expensive. The grading of freshwater pearls is more variable than that of saltwater pearls because freshwater pearls are more colourful and come in various shapes. Freshwater pearls appear in a variety of pretty colours: white, pink, orange, yellow, lavender and grey and hence make beautiful freshwater pearl jewellery. Currently the typical sizes range from 4 mm to over 10 mm.
They are often treated to obtain various colours and shapes. Because of their versatility, treated freshwater pearls bring the fashion industry more variety, inspiration and creativity. Treated freshwater pearl jewellery can really have shimmering glow to it.
Freshwater pearls are also used in the ornamentation of items such as hand bags and clothing.
Alisia Jones is a freelance content writer. In this article she shares her information about freshwater pearl jewellery.