Innovation Continues in Chinese Freshwater Pearl Culture

Great article, Jeremy!

"Importing the giant clam or its derivatives is illegal in the US and other countries that are signatories to CITES, an international treaty intended to protect endangered and threatened species. China is not a signatory."

Did I understand that right? Uh oh for the Ikecho (fireballs)?!?

Ikecho Guilt!

Ikecho Guilt!

Oh, the guilt! I purchased my Ikechos for resale, but haven't got them drilled and set yet. Now, I might be forced to keep them:)

All kidding aside, I really do feel bad. It doesn't seem right that Giant Clams might be harvested out of existence just to make giant pearls. When I purchased them, the talk had been that they were using cultured pearls to nucleate them.



  • Ikecho Pearls small.jpg
    Ikecho Pearls small.jpg
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Yes, the talk was "pearls". I believe that myth was very intentionally perpetrated. But from the first strands I picked up in 2002, I knew there were no pearls inside. I broke a few for the original Modern Jeweler article. Folks on the ground in China confirmed that although they had tried, they had no success with pearl in a pearl culturing. We discussed this with several growers, and asked the question to a few companies as well.

Well here is the good news on the ikecho. It is here, you can sell it. There is nothing wrong or illegal about that. You can even buy the shell here in the US if you find it at a furniture store, for example. What is restricted is the harvesting, import, and export.

Truth be told, I do not know if anything will change, even with the cat out of the bag.
They had a pearl forum at the GIA Symposium a year ago and I'm surprised the nucleus issue wasn't revealed then. There were all kinds of rumors.

The president of Honora showed a bootleg film clip from China with an outsize mussel. I was impressed until I saw Jeremy's films on YouTube. They are outstanding:)

Woo Hoo - 11 days to Tahiti!
Fantastic read.

To be honest, the Chinese will make use of any opportunity to make money, endangered species or not. The overwhelming majority of Ikecho producers will not care if it's on the brink of extinction. What will curtail it is the lack of demand.

Ikechos are not readily available to me, but I don't think I'd support it. They are beautiful though.
Fascinating, Jeremy!

Thanks very much for sharing your research. What is the coin pearl nucleus made of? Can other types of mother of pearl be used for that--ones that are not endangered?

so many pearls, so little time
Jeremy: Thanks for sharing the article with us here. It is fun to read and very informative.

In another thread, several forum members think CFWP is undervalued. Reading the article makes me wonder whether the price might actually drop with more and more large beautiful pearls being produced?

Raisondetre said:
To be honest, the Chinese will make use of any opportunity to make money, endangered species or not.

I think it is fair to say a minority of every culture and every country would make use of any opportunity to make money, ethical or not. What the article illustrates is that there are a majority of Chinese farmers who persevere and are innovative in their quest to produce high quality pearls and create a better livelihood for themselves. The minority who may be using endangered species in their production needs to be educated, so are consumers who do not know the “dark secret.” Perhaps new laws should be passed and enforced. This article by Jeremy and Doug Fiske is a first step in that direction.

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As wonderful as the article is, it has upset me. I recently acquired a pair of fireball earrings. Yes they are very beautifully lustrous and BIG. I would not have bought them if I had known the Chinese were using a threatened species to nucleate with. I guess nothing is sacred or safe anymore (even though our environment is steadily crumbling around us) when the mighty dollar is involved. Oh well, what's the extinction of one more aquatic species, eh? As long as we have the wonderful flameball pearls, eh?

carved pearls

carved pearls

Dear Jeremy: If large FW pearls are clam-shell bead nucleated, then they might also be nucleated by colored clam shell beads. That would explain how carves a pearl to reveal a "gemstone" core. They are really revealing a dyed clamshell core. Is this possible using "comet" pearls? When the tail of the comet is carved away, will the layers underneath be equally lusterous as the layers on top or less lusterous? This might be a way of marketing comet pearls that currently have little value-- as art-carved pearls. Another question, if overprocessed FW pearls lose their luster, will body oils or other oils bring back the luster? Is there anyway of recovering luster once it fades? The pearl merchants in Zhuji I spoke with thought the luster could NOT be brought back. The "Japanese-water" dip allowed the pearl to become lusterous for a short time after processing in hydrogen peroxide, but two dips don't work, they said.
The freshwater are not nucleated as a rule, it is the new fireball and ikecho pearls that are.

I have not seen one of the carved gemstone pearls yet, but from what I understand, they really are gemstones. I have never heard of colored clam shell ...

There is no real way to bring back the original luster once the pearls start to oxidize, unfortunately. Some of the members here talk of using different types of oil to bring back the shine. That does not surprise me.

I see everything is starting to center on the giant clam. Didn't the fact Biwa fact surprise anyone?! That was Doug's and my biggest surprise. I suspected the clam shell in the large bead nukes as well as the fake shell pearls for a long time now.
clarification, please

clarification, please

Dear Jeremy:
So I can import giant-clam shell bead nucleated pearls? I would NOT be in violation of US laws? I'm interested in them because of the carvings I saw on As you know I have a house in Thailand. The Chinese and the Thai are experts in carving gemstones, jade, coral, fruits and vegetables. If the giant lumpy cultured pearls are cheap enough, they could be carved and used as pendants. Would the layers underneath still be lusterous? I guess my questions are repetitive; I'd better go back to California from Thailand and check out's carvings myself.
No one is stopping people at the border to check for T. gigas, that is for sure. In fact, no conclusive test has been done to prove that the nuclei are T. gigas. Only that they are from a saltwater mollusk, and they are very large.

I would not imagine the core to be shiny. When I have peeled nacre from a nucleus, they have always come out stained and pitted. But I have never carved before.
Loved the article, it was well worth the wait. Sad to hear about the usage of engangered species though. Although, considering all the negative news out of China recently(concerning various exports), I am not so surprised. Hopefully things will begin to turn around and we will continue to see wonderful developments without any 'dirty secrets'.
Dark secrets of the Fireball Pearls

Dark secrets of the Fireball Pearls

Hi, Jeremy

and thanks for a very interesting article. I think it is fantastic that the Chinese have recovered the Hyriopsis Schelgelii and have been able to get hybrids out of Hyriopsiscumingii and Schelgeli.

I am looking foward to even more beautiful freshwater pearls.:)

Reg. the fireballs - despite their size and beautiful orient I am not going to buy them if the actually will help to make the Giant clam disappear. The Chinese have to learn and understand that we consumers will not buy anything without questioning and if they do not listen, one day they will learn it the hard way, I believe.:D