I would appreciate any information on sustainably cultured freshwater pearls


New Member
Mar 11, 2021
Hello everyone!

I'm a design student and a small scale jewellery business owner working on my Bachelor's thesis. In my thesis I'm examining the ethical and sustainability issues concerning the cultivation of freshwater pearls. Also as a part of my thesis I'm seeking the market for sustainable options when it comes to buying freshwater pearls as a jewellery maker.

To my understanding the ecological stress concerning the cultivation of freshwater pearls is much larger than it is with saltwater pearls. As freshwater pearls are very popular in jewellery at the moment this is obviously problematic. Consumers are very aware novadays and seek for sustainable options, but to my understanding this is very hard in the case of freshwater pearls. I also believe many jewellery makers including myself would appreciate the information on the origin and ethical aspects of the pearls they use, but this information seems to be almost impossible to find.

I would be grateful for any information, studies or articles on sustainably produced freshwater pearls. Also discussion on whether this kind of freshwater pearls exist is valuable information for me. Please share your knowledge! :)
Hello Laura.k and welcome to our pearl loving forum :)

Some years ago, I worked with Columbia GemHouse in their "Fair Trade Gems" initiative and was also a part of the Tiffany's "Sustainable Pearls" initiative. At those moments there was the discussion about freshwater pearls and the problem was always the same: the way freshwater pearls are managed. For them it is just a product, a massively produced one. There is no interest in keeping "sustainable pearls" apart or separate...it all just goes down into one huge pile of pearls and then sent off for sorting, grading, processing, etc. This is not their way.
The only freshwater pearl I would consider for this honor would be the Japanese Kasumi pearls: they are grown in a few farms, one location (lake Kasumigaura), production is small and of high quality.

From my point of view, you would require a lot of effort and time and patience to try this in China, but I may be wrong...there might be some farmers willing to try this (there are thousands of farmers, after all).

The people behind the Sustainable pearls initiative were: Dr. Laurent Cartier of SSEF Gem Lab in Basel, Dr. Saleem Ali (presently at the University of Delaware) and Dr. Julie Alsheimer Nash (presently at Ceres, Inc). For the "Fair Trade Gems" initiative you may contact Eric Braunwert of Columbia Gemhouse. You may contact them via LinkedIn.
Maybe they can help you out by "leveling your expectations"? (I don't know if this is the correct term, sorry) and helping you focus on what can really be done in this regard.
I would stick to Kasumis...they have a real chance at sustainability from my point of view.
As Douglas says, freshwater pearls are pretty much always impossible to trace. I can think of a couple of wholesale companies which have their own farms but mostly FW go to factories, where they are mixed in with the production from many other farms. (This also happens with most sea pearls).
Chinese pearl farmers are intensely pragmatic. It isn't a calling for them. If the crop fails to make money they'll switch to another crop.
Which university?
That is good article echolovesyou :) thank you for sharing.
I discussed these issues with Laurent years ago and he also talked with other producers and his conclusion was that it was simply not worth trying to find a "sustainable freshwater pearl" in China. As pearlescence has noted, it is simply not a practical thing in China...things are done the way they always have been done and that is just fine.
But you can always find a farmer willing to try something new...it could be possible. But the issue is: there are THOUSANDS of farmers and you will spend TIME interviewing each one until you find him/her.