Freshwater (fw) pearls are solid nacre pearls (at least so far), so one does not have to be able to judge how thick the nacre is. If a pearl has faults, like bands or blemishes, they are easily visible to 20/20 vision. If the luster is good or dull, it is obvious. Fw pearls may be treated to improve their color. Fw pearls come in silver, pink, peach, blue, green, peacock, black and more colors. I saw mauve and lavender. Some pearls are not color treated and these are usually advertised as natural colors.
Freshwater pearls are like putty in the competent hands of the Chinese growers. The Chinese were the first to culture fw pearls many centuries ago, when they put little Buddha shapes inside clam shells to get coated with nacre. In just the past few years the Chinese pearl farmers have gone from producing little rice pearls to perfecting a variety of shapes, including round. This year’s crop has more round pearls than ever. The sizes are climbing -9 and 10 mm were common and even up to 13mm were available!
Just wait, the big, round, white, ones are coming out too. Look for up to 20mm baroques followed in a few years by perfected round ones to simulate Tahitian and South Sea pearls at a fraction of the cost! I bought a fairly roundish strand of 13mm black fw pearls- for $10! They have a wonderful iridescence, like an oil slick. They do a good job of being faux Tahitian. The surfaces are bumpy and rough. There are a few little holes in the nacre with more black nacre underneath. The pearls look a little distressed, more like the Kasumi fw pearls than Tahitian, except for color. Even without pretensions to being Tahitian, this strand is still an interesting experiment and fairly reeks of what is to come.
This year’s fw pearl crop has higher luster than ever. I saw so many pearls in booths at the trade fairs with luster as good as my Akoyas, I lost track at about 150 - and I only saw part of the show! The question is no longer can one get round pearls with the best luster, but how much do you want to pay, because prices vary widely. The folks who carry freshwater, Akoyas, south sea and Tahitian pearls tended to be higher priced than the booths that sold FW only.
But round high luster pearls is just the top of the fw pearl heap. The button shapes have also been perfected in their iridescent effect. There are cross shapes, pillow, rondelle, oval, and tiny seed beads as well as the omnipresent “potato” I also saw a shape called “nugget” , teardrops and I probably missed a few more shapes.
The Fw pearl market encompasses more than the fine jewelry trade of finished necklaces, earrings and bracelets, it has exploded onto the crafts scene and inspired a whole new wave of beaders who mix the fw pearls with an array of other kinds of beads. FW pearls look good with any other kind of bead, stone, wood, glass, metal, pearls go with everything. This is a natural market for the Chinese and they have shown tremendous growth and creativity in developing it, especially in the last 10 years. Freshwater pearls truly are for everyone!