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Seawater pearls and freshwater pearls have a lot in common. They are both beautiful, lustrous pearls. They are nearly all cultured, or artificially farmed, by inserting an irritant into the mollusk to stimulate the production of a pearl. They differ when it comes to price, however.
Freshwater pearls are generally lower in cost because they’re grown inside mussels instead of oysters. Freshwater pearls are usually larger and, because a single mussel may produce multiple pearls, the harvest of freshwater pearls generally yields more than a saltwater harvest.
The quality of freshwater pearls can vary quite a bit, just like precious stones and gems. When shopping for freshwater pearls, there are a few factors that it pays to consider before making the decision to purchase. We’ve collected a few buying tips here:
Freshwater pearls are naturally white; in fact, a bright white color is not unusual. Some manufacturers will dye the pearls to create a wider selection of colors. These colors can range from a lavender tint to an iridescent black or silver, or a light pink. Freshwater pearls dyed black are especially popular because the dye gives them a rainbow-like iridescence that is unique among pearls.
Sometimes dyes are used to hide imperfections in the pearl, so this should be considered when purchasing colored pearls.
The sizes found in freshwater pearls can vary greatly, ranging from a small 2 mm to a gorgeous focal bead size of 18 mm. On average, a freshwater pearl ranges from 6 to 7 mm in diameter.
Pearl farms in Japan generally produce the largest size of high-quality freshwater pearls, but that market has diminished in the last several years. Most of the freshwater pearls on the market today are usually farmed in Chinese.
When buying freshwater pearls, you should be especially aware of any flaws on the surface of the pearl. These can include cracks or chips, irregular shapes, and surface gaps. Some may want to purchase pearls that are a nontraditional shape, such as oblong or asymmetrical, but the most valuable shape of pearl continues to be the traditional spherical ones.
If you’re shopping for pearls of unusual shapes, remember that the oblong pearls should be a lower price than spherical pearls that are of a similar size and color.
The degree to which a pearl reflects the light is considered its luster. A high-quality freshwater pearl should have a nice luster to it. The brighter the luster, the higher the cost should be. Freshwater pearls with a chalky appearance are considered of lower quality and should be priced less.
Most pearls, whether freshwater or saltwater, are priced based on the size of their diameter. Freshwater pearls, however, may sometimes be sold by weight instead. Be sure you’re aware of whether the pearls you’re thinking of purchasing are being sold by diameter or weight before you finalize a price.
If you’re purchasing freshwater pearls for a craft project or other beadwork, you should take into consideration how a collection of the pearls will look together. Will they be closely matched, so as to augment each other? Matching a few pearls for earrings is not such a difficult undertaking, but if you’re putting together a strand or two of pearls for a necklace, you need to consider how well the pearls will look collectively, not just individually.
Matching saltwater pearls is not such as challenge, but it is the unusual shaping that is found in many freshwater pearls that makes matching them a point of consideration when purchasing.
One way to make certain that the freshwater pearls or pearl jewelry creation you’re purchasing is made up of authentic freshwater pearls is to ask the seller to produce a certificate of authenticity from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). This organization is the world’s most respected institute for grading gems on quality. The GIA provides verification of the authenticity of freshwater pearls.
High-quality freshwater pearls are worth paying for. However, we all want to know that we got the best deal we could when making a purchase. The prices of freshwater pearls can vary dramatically, depending on location and time of year, among other things. The price difference could be an indication of differences in quality from one vendor to another.
Use the buying factors we’ve mentioned here to make certain the freshwater pearls you buy are the quality product you’re looking for, and that your jewelry design deserves.