We have been selling a lot of different types of pearl jewelries, and many people have asked us “Are Freshwater Pearls worth buying? ” Most of the times I answered "yes", and here is why:
Freshwater pearls have more nacre than their saltwater cousins. When the freshwater pearl is drilled, the mantle tissue used to nucleate the pearl is either dissolved or drilled out -- you are left with a solid pearl that will last a lifetime! This is unlike the various saltwater pearl varieties that still contain the nucleus in the finished product. Also, for the same grade/quality of pearls, freshwater pearls are a lot more affordable than saltwater pearls.
Why, then, is the freshwater pearl so much inexpensive than all the others, one might ask. There are a couple of reasons, but none of which affects the quality.
One of the main differences between freshwater and their saltwater cousins are their bearer. While Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea pearls are cultured in Saltwater oysters (e.g. Akoya /pinctada Fucata, Black-Lipped Oyster/pinctada Margaritifera, Golden-lipped Oyster/pinctada Maxima etc.), freshwater pearls are most commonly cultured in freshwater mollusks such as the Triangle Shell. Most of the oysters can only produce one or two pearls at a time, while it’s possible to harvest up to 50 pearls in a single freshwater mollusk. Therefore freshwater pearls are more cost efficient to grow.
Another reason freshwater pearls have a lower price is their abundance. 15 years ago freshwater pearls were nearly exclusive to lake Biwa (lies very near Kyoto) in Japan. But a decade ago nearly all pearl farms were shuttered due to pollution. Japan has never recovered its freshwater pearl industry until recently, with lake Kasumigaura boasting a small harvest of quality freshwater pearls. Luckily lake Kasumigaura has been protected because of environmentalism and the fact that they need to protect the freshwater eel habitat that is native to this lake and important for the economy.However Kasumigaura freshwater pearls usually cost a fortune. Most of the affordable freshwater cultured pearls now originate in the freshwater lakes and rivers of China. Since pearl-bearing mussels are very sensitive to pollution, we usually buy high quality Chinese freshwater pearls from remote lakes of China, where the labor is abundant and low cost.
That being said, freshwater pearls are definitely worth buying, unless you really want to get a strand of natural black color pearls, then you might want to consider Tahitian pearls. Although you can get many beautiful black freshwater pearls but they are dyed, the only natural black pearls are Tahitian pearls. Unfortunately, contrary to their brand-world advertising, Tahitians are indeed often color treated but not necessarily dyed although some diffusion dying does occur. I will discuss more about Tahitian pearls in my next guide.