Freshwater pearls are pearls that are grown from freshwater mussels in bays, lakes and rivers. They are largely produced in China now, but some pearls come from Japan, United States and other parts of the world. In 1963, John Latendresse did the first experimental U. S. freshwater cultured pearl farming in Tennessee.
Freshwater mussels are nucleated in the actual mantle tissue while saltwater pearl-bearing oysters are nucleated in a small organ known as gonad. Freshwater shell and pearl mussels are from the family -‘unionidae’, from which up to 20 different species are commercially harvested every year. Interestingly, a single mussel can produce up to 40-50 pearl beads.
Freshwater pearls are seldom perfectly round or even nearly round. The shape of the nucleus and its position in the mussel as well as quality of water determines the shape of the cultured pearl. Perfectly round freshwater pearls with high lustrous quality are called freshadama in pearl jewelry trade circle and normally command high prices.
High quality freshwater pearls are as good as saltwater cultured pearls. Freshwater pearls are cheaper and come in unique shapes and colors and are quite popular in recent years. Although white is synonymous with pearl and is the most common color but freshwater pearls are available in many attractive colors like cream, pink, peach, lavenders and black etc. Different natural colors are normally results of various other factors such as mussel species or genetics, the water quality and the position of the pearl in the shell. Pearls can be colored-dyed also as per fashion and style.
By contrast, saltwater pearls grow in oysters that live in the ocean, usually in protected lagoons. Akoya pearls, Tahitian pearls and South Sea pearls and are the three main types of saltwater pearls. Nonetheless, they all are cultured with the human help. Natural pearls are rarity now.