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The Chinese were the Pioneers in Harvesting & Culturing Freshwater Pearls

Posted by Delia Bass on

Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater Pearls are a kind of Pearl that comes from freshwater mussels. They are produced in Japan and the United States on a limited scale, but are now almost exclusive to China The U.S. Federal Trade Commission requires that freshwater Pearls are referred to as "freshwater cultured Pearls" in commerce.

Harvesting Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater Pearl harvests are typically purchased while still in the shell. After harvest the Pearls are delivered to a first stage factory. This factory is responsible for cleaning and sorting the Pearls by size and shape. After this process has been completed, the Pearls are considered ready material for processing factories. These smaller factories perform the treatments [2] that are nearly universal to all freshwater Pearls. The Pearls are pre-treated (maeshori) in a warm and cold chemical solution and then bleached. The Pearls that exhibit strong coloration will only go through the maeshori. After the Pearls are bleached they are drilled and then polished with a mixture of cornmeal and wax. Finally they are matched into temporary strands, which are then matched again into hanks. Hanks are composed of 5 to 10 temporary strands and are considered wholesale ready.

The Chinese were the Pioneers

The Chinese were the first to culture a product from freshwater mussels, though their centuries-old Buddhas are not true Pearls but shell mabes. The first cultured freshwater Pearls originated in Japan. Chinese freshwater mussels were once grafted up to 50 times per shell, or 25 times per valve. Although the Japanese freshwater Pearl industry has nearly ceased to exist, it does hold special historic value as the first country to cultivate whole freshwater Pearls in Lake Biwa. As Biwa production diminished, China filled the vacuum. China has all the resources that Japan lacks: a huge land mass; countless available lakes, rivers, and irrigation ditches; a limitless and pliable work force that earns less than a dollar a day; and an almost desperate need for hard currency. In 1968, with no recent history in Pearling, China startled the gem world with prodigious amounts of ridiculously inexpensive Pearls.