A Brief History of Freshwater Cultured Pearls

Although true cultured pearls are a recent phenomenon, Chinese workers have produced freshwater blister pearls since the 13th century. However, it took Kokichi Mikimoto’s breakthrough in unattached saltwater pearls, which lead to Akoya pearls, to inspire a similar innovation in freshwater cultured pearls.

Tissue-Nucleated Freshwater Pearls

Dr. Masao Fujita began freshwater pearl cultivation in Japan’s Lake Biwa with the Biwa pearly mussel, Hyriopsis schlegelii. He found limited success with bead-nucleated pearls. Noting that keshi pearls (all-nacre, non-nucleated pearls) sometimes formed when the Akoya mollusk rejected a bead nucleus, he tried cultivating pearls from only a piece of mantle tissue. The resulting pearls were small, about 3-5 mm, and baroque in shape.

However, Chinese Professor Xiong Daren took note of Fujita’s work and began cultivation using triangle sail pearl mussels, Hyriopsis cumingii, in 1962. These pearls were similar in quality to the Japanese pearls, but China’s production far exceeded Japan’s.

In the early 1980s, China’s freshwater pearl industry switched to using cockscomb mussels, Cristaria plicata. Although the resulting pearls were also small and baroque, they flooded the market, since 50 pearls could be nucleated in a single shell.

The Chinese freshwater…