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Freshwater Pearls
Pearl Types
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Dating back to the thirteenth century, freshwater pearls in the shape of Buddha had been cultured in China. However, the Japanese at Biwa Lake are credited for being the first to cultivate freshwater pearls on a commercial basis successfully. And Masayo Fujita, the "father of freshwater pearl cultivation", have made great contribution to the technical roots of cultivating freshwater pearls.
In August 1925, Biwa pearls were harvested for the first time, and they were found having a shell bead nucleus like Akoya pearls. Till the 1930's they were having been sold abroad. Some Indian merchants would be like to buy these Lake Biwa pearls from Fujita and in order to a huge amount of money, then resell them to the Middle East as Persian pearls of great value. By accident, it was discovered that a shell bead is unnecessary for the cultivation of a freshwater pearl. On the contrary, what is needed is the insertion of a piece of mantle (membranous tissue secreting nacre and lining the inner shell surface of mollusks). This is much easier and more convenient than inserting both a bead and mantle tissue. What's more, it was realized that mussels can automatically produce pearls for the second and third time. It means that cultured freshwater pearls usually own more pearl nacre than cultured Akoya pearls because of most without shell bead nucleus.

In America, pearls cultivated using just mantle tissue are called tissue-nucleated pearls, and in Britain and Commonwealth countries they were called non-nucleated pearls. If a shell bead is implanted with mantle tissue, the resulting pearl is named a nucleated pearl or a headnucleated pearl ( The bead could be any shape, and it is unnecessarily round). Any pearl that is cultivated in lake or river area is freshwater cultured pearl. For the purpose of brevity and concise, the word "cultured" is omitted since in reality all pearls are cultured today.

Biwa pearls from Lake Biwa have won an excellent reputation for their smooth surface and high luster. Unfortunately, it was a pity that in the early 1990's, for the death of most of the Biwa mussels the production of Biwa pearls almost came to a halt. And it is being resumed now. Some dealers still keep a reserve of pearls from Lake Biwa for selling, while many pearls that are recognized as Biwa pearls actually come from China.

 Today, most freshwater pearls are produced in China. And since 1991, their quality has been improving and their sizes have been increasing steadily. What's more, at the end of 1992, semi-round Chinese freshwater pearls were sold on the market. Now, the semi-round Chinese freshwater pearls with low price and high quality provide a more attractive alternative to the round Akoya pearls. And even some of the larger pearls compare favorably with South Sea pearls.

Freshwater pearls can be found not only in China and Japan, but also other countries. For example, in Europe and North America, there are many historical descriptions about the natural freshwater pearls. Although these pearls are still being sold, their quantities are decreasing. The supply of these natural pearls has been dwindled, even in some areas eliminated because of overfishing, flooding and pollution.

In fact, in US, the cultured freshwater pearl market is gradually increasing. The freshwater pearls now are being cultivated in Tennessee and their nacre is very thick because they are left in the mollusks for three to five years. Differed from most other freshwater pearls, pearls cultured in America are little bleached, dyed or treated. They are in various shapes, such as marquises, drops, coins, tadpoles, domes and bars. Tennessee is the primary source of the shell bead nuclei in Akoya and South Sea pearls, too.

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