Why Freshwater Pearls are a Great Choice: Pros & Cons

Not only are freshwater pearls wallet-friendly; they’re also very trendy. With a variety of colors and shapes, they fit right into modern jewelry styles. Let’s take a look at what sets freshwater pearls apart and whether you should consider adding them to your jewelry collection.

What Is a Freshwater Pearl?

Freshwater pearls are created by using freshwater mussels in lakes, rivers and ponds. Most freshwater pearls on the market today come from rivers and lakes in China, although USA and Japan have a small fraction of the market. A freshwater mussel can have up to 50 pearls at a time (compared to the two to five pearls that saltwater oysters can contain).

cloud pearl pendant necklace on the woman's neck
Cloud Pearl Necklace. See it here.

All freshwater pearls have been cultured, meaning that they were grown in pearl farms using science and technology rather than in nature by accident. This is where a trained technician implants an irritant in the mussel to stimulate the formation of a pearl.

While a bead nucleus is commonly used in Akoya and other saltwater pearl farming, with freshwater pearls the method is somewhat different. Here, the tissue of a donor mussel is placed in the host mussel to stimulate nacre secretion.

The result of this method is that freshwater pearls are composed entirely of nacre, as they do not contain a bead nucleus. The thicker nacre generally results in a durable, beautiful pearl.

Freshwater Pearl Colors and Overtones

dark purple freshwater pearl strands
Dark Purple Freshwater Pearl Necklace. See it here.

Freshwater pearls come in a wide range of colors, unlike other pearl varieties. The main body colors for these pearls include white, cream, gray, as well as pastel shades such as yellow, lavender, pink and orange. High quality freshwater pearls have overtones of pink, green and blue although lower quality gems do not display any desirable overtones.

The most popular colors for freshwater pearls are white, cream, lavender and black. However, black freshwater pearls are not natural in that they have been dyed to obtain their color. Only Tahitian pearls are naturally charcoal to black in color; all other black pearls on the market have been dyed.

Freshwater Pearl Shapes

flameball baroque pearls
Flameball Baroque Freshwater Pearls. See them here.

Although pearls are quintessentially perfectly spherical in shape, only about 5% of all pearls are perfectly round. The rest come in a variety of shapes, including near round, button, semi-baroque and baroque. In the past, only round pearls were considered worthy of being set in jewelry but today an increasing number of people are seeing the beauty of irregular shaped pearls.

Most freshwater pearls are oval or near round in shape, while about 30% are baroque or semi-baroque. Round freshwater pearls can be quite rare due to the nucleation process employed by freshwater pearl farmers. As I mentioned above, these pearls are not bead nucleated, which means that they are more likely to form irregular shapes.

Freshwater Pearl Sizes

freshwater pearl choker necklace on the woman's neck
Freshwater Pearl Choker Necklaces. See prices here.

Freshwater pearls vary widely in size, typically ranging from 2mm to 15mm. The majority fall between 6mm and 7.5mm, making them versatile for various jewelry types. However, the increasing demand for larger pearls has led to the cultivation of sizes reaching up to 10mm and beyond.

These larger pearls, often used for statement pieces, showcase their unique luster and beauty. Regardless of size, each freshwater pearl brings its distinct charm and elegance to the table.

Freshwater Pearl Luster

dainty freshwater pearl ring on the ring finger
Dainty Freshwater Pearl Ring. See price here.

Luster is the most important aspect to consider when buying a pearl. It’s the luster that causes a pearl to shimmer and shine and really catch your eye. The higher the luster of a pearl, the more valuable it is.

Generally, saltwater pearls such as Akoya and South Sea pearls have better luster compared to freshwater pearls. This is a general rule of thumb, but there are always exceptions and it depends on the individual pearls.

Freshwater Pearls Value

freshwater pearl stacking ring
Freshwater Pearl Stacking Ring. See it here.

Freshwater pearls, known for their wide variety and accessibility, have a value determined by multiple factors. One of the key indicators of a pearl’s worth is its luster; those with a strong, reflective shine typically command higher prices. Size is another determining factor, with larger, round, and uniform pearls being more coveted. The shape plays a significant role too; while round pearls are often more sought after due to their classic appeal, unique shapes like baroque can also be valuable because of their distinctiveness.

a woman wearing freshwater pearl flower necklace
Natural Freshwater Pearl Flower Necklace. See price here.

A pearl’s surface quality, color, and the thickness of its nacre also influence its value. Despite these variables, freshwater pearls are usually more pocket-friendly than saltwater varieties. However, top-quality freshwater pearls can still fetch a premium, so it’s crucial to purchase from trusted sources and be well-informed about the pearls you’re considering.

Freshwater Pearl Jewelry

Freshwater Pearl Stud Earrings
Freshwater Pearl Stud Earrings. See them here.

Freshwater pearls can be found in all popular types of pearl jewelry. These include pearl necklaces, bracelet strands, pearl stud earrings, and pearl pendants.

Freshwater pearl studs are a great addition to any jewelry collection. They’re very affordable and suit almost any budget. Pearl studs go great with any outfit and add a level of chicness and style.

baroque pearl pendant
Unique Pearl Pendant. See this pendant here.

If you want a more unique alternative to the traditional pearl strand, there are many options on the market.

Grading Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls have no universally accepted grading standard but two grading systems are commonly used. This can make it very difficult to compare pearls across vendors and choose the best one for you. Most retailers have their own standards, even though they may follow the A-AAA or A-D grading scale often used for pearls. When grading freshwater pearls, the surface quality, shape and luster of the pearl is evaluated.

The AAA to A Scale

AAAAlmost flawless, this is the highest quality pearl. Features include: perfectly round, virtually free of surface blemishes and defects with highly reflective luster. Up to 95% surface is blemish free.
AAHigh luster, with about 90% of surface free of blemishes or defects. Good quality with near round shape.
ALow luster and 70% of surface free of blemishes and defects. Shape is off round.

Some retailers add a fourth grade, AAAA or AAA+, to this scale. Often retailers do this to add a premium to a high quality pearl and make it seem that the pearl is even better than the highest standard. After all, a pearl graded AAAA must be better than AAA, and therefore the higher price is justified, right? Wrong. Most times, you’ll see that a retailer’s AAAA or AAA+ pearl is the same as a standard AAA pearl.

The Tahitian A-D System

freshwater pearl leaf earring on the woman's ear
Freshwater pearl wire leaf earrings. See them here.

With this method, pearls are graded into four categories with A being the highest. While this system was originally used in French Polynesia to grade Tahitian pearls, it is now used to grade other pearl varieties as well.

AThe highest quality pearl, with excellent luster and round shape. Less than 10% of minute surface blemishes.
BHigh luster and round shape. Some noticeable defects that may cover up to 30% of surface area.
CMedium luster. Surface imperfections may cover up to 60% of surface area.
DOver 60% of blemishes and defects cover the surface. Luster is not considered in D grade due to high percentage of defects.

How to Care for Freshwater Pearls

love knot pendant with freshwater pearl
Love knot pendant with freshwater pearl. Check price here.

It’s easy to take care of your pearls at home by simply using tepid water and mild detergent to clean them. Ensure that the water you use is not too hot or too cold, as this can damage the surface of your pearls. Use a soft cloth to wipe off any grime and gently rinse the pearls to wash off any residue.

Don’t soak your pearls or submerge them in water. Soaking can damage the nacre as well as the string of the strand, compromising its durability. Avoid using any harsh chemicals or ultrasonic cleaners as these can damage your pearls.

When storing your pearls, avoid direct sunlight or hot environments as these can dry out the pearls and cause them to become brittle and lose their color. Placing a damp cotton ball along with the pearls in a fabric pouch will ensure that they remain hydrated.

Pearls are very soft and must be stored separately to avoid scratches from other objects.

Where to Buy Freshwater Pearls

a woman wearing vintage inspired freshwater pearl drop earrings
Vintage inspired freshwater pearl earrings. Check price here.

There are many retailers that offer high quality pearls at great prices. For a wider range of choice, taking your search online is a great idea. However, always vet the retailer you choose to purchase from. Ensure that the retailer is reputable, knowledgeable and licensed and offers a solid return policy.

Here’s a look at some of the most popular online stores that offer freshwater pearl jewelry.

  • James Allen: Renowned primarily for its extensive diamond collection, James Allen also offers a selection of pearl jewelry. Their easy-to-navigate website makes it simple to find freshwater pearls amidst other gemstone offerings, with detailed imagery ensuring a confident purchase. Browse their collection here.
  • Blue Nile: As one of the largest online jewelry retailers, Blue Nile boasts a curated collection of freshwater pearl jewelry. From elegant strands to modern designs, there’s a piece for every pearl enthusiast here. Check their freshwater pearl jewelry here.
  • Etsy: A global marketplace for handmade, vintage, and unique products, Etsy is a treasure trove for those seeking artisanal freshwater pearl pieces. From custom-made jewelry to vintage finds, Etsy’s diverse range offers a more personalized shopping experience. Search freshwater pearls here.
  • Amazon: The global online marketplace isn’t just for books and gadgets; it’s also a hub for jewelry. Here, you can find an array of freshwater pearl jewelry ranging from mainstream brands to independent sellers. Plus, there’s a good chance to stumble upon vintage pieces and unique, artisan-crafted items. Find freshwater pearl jewelry here.

Wrapping Up

Freshwater pearls, often regarded as nature’s marvels, have captivated humanity for centuries. Their luminous glow, unique shapes, and enchanting hues serve as a testament to the wonders that freshwater mussels can craft from mere grains of sand. Unlike their saltwater cousins, which often exhibit a more uniform appearance, freshwater pearls embrace the beauty of individuality, with each one boasting its own signature character and charm.

Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years in the jewelry niche. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education. She has always been interested in expression through fashion and accessories, and her extensive experience in the field has made her a respected voice in jewelry trends and education. As the chief editor of Jewelry Shopping Guide, she not only leads the content strategy but also shares her insights through engaging articles. Her passion for storytelling is reflected in every piece she curates, exploring the intricate relationship between jewelry and personal identity.

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