Freshwater pearls have a long and storied history, stretching all the way back to 2000 BCE, and earlier. Natural Freshwater pearls werehighly prized in Chinese culture, and werefrequently worn by royals and the elite of society. Pearls were used in traditional jewelry items like necklaces and pearl earrings. Pearls were also used to adorn clothing, hair pieces, hats, crowns, shoes, fingernail guards and much more.
The first cultured blister pearls were created by the ancient Chinese, around 100 BC. Blister pearls are half-pearls grown on the inside of a mollusk’s shell and then cut out once the formis covered in iridescent nacre. The resulting blister pearls are then set into jewelry and religious charms. These early cultured pearls were often created in the shape of Buddha, but many other shapes like dragons, koi fish and coins were also used.
Modern cultured Freshwater pearl operations didn’t begin in China until the 1960s with the birth of the infamous "Rice Crispy" pearls.From the 60s through the 1980s, the vast majority of all Chinese Freshwater pearl harvestswere purchased by Japan. These pearlswere sold under the "Product of Japan" blue tag label, which created a lot of confusion.Many buyers were under the impression they had bought Japanese Freshwater pearls from Lake Biwa.
Finally in the early 80s, China began marketing their own pearls. They branded their pearls "Shanghai Lake Freshwater Pearls", to set them apart from the famous Japanese Biwa pearls. The pastel, feminine colors and low price points of Chinese Freshwater pearls made them a jewelry designer favorite. The cultured Chinese Freshwater pearl industry was off to a good start on the world's markets.
As pearliculture in China modernized, the shapes of the pearls have continually improved. It is almost as though we can document the improvements of the Freshwater pearl by the decade!
1970s: Heavily Baroque and small-in-size "Rice Crispy" pearls
1980s: Flat-bottomed Button-Shape pearls and "Rice Crispy" pearls
1990s: Egg and Ovalish-shaped, with and without circling “Potato” pearls
2000s: Near Round and Very Near True Round pearl shapes
2010s: Fireballs, Ripples, Soufflé pearls and other bead-nucleated pearl shapes emerge
2020s: Very Large, perfectly round Edison pearls (bead-nucleated Freshwater)
The journey is FAR from over. China provides some of the most cutting edge and interesting experiments in pearling technology. We look forward to keeping up with the newest pearl innovations to come out of China in the years to come.