Sunday, February 19, 2006

Spice Pearls

The area within the jewelry industry that is evolving most rapidly in favor of the consumer is cultured pearls-in particular, Chinese freshwater cultured pearls. While the Chinese have also made great strides in producing nice quality saltwater Akoya pearls, they have revolutionized the market for freshwater pearls with rapid advances in culturing a whole range of sizes, shapes and colors.

It was not long ago that freshwater pearls were identified almost exclusively with the production of one locale- Lake Biwa in Japan. The pearls produced there were generally flat and very irregularly shaped-very nice for designer jewelry, but altogether different from saltwater cultured pearls. In the early days freshwater pearls and Biwa pearls were synonomous. Then came the first Chinese freshwater pearl production with most of the pearls shaped mainly in the form of grains of rice, hence the name "rice pearls".

Today, the Chinese are producing a fabulous range of shapes and sizes and natural colors in cultured freshwater pearls. Freshwater pearls are now on the market that can easily be mistaken for fine large Akoya and even South Sea pearls.

In addition to producing white, round pearls in large sizes with nice skins and high luster, the Chinese are culturing freshwater pearls in an exciting mix of natural pastel colors. Sometimes referred to as "Spice Pearls", an aptly flavorful term trademarked by Trigem Designs, they exhibit delicious hues reminiscent of vanilla, cinamon, nutmeg and lavendar.

In addition to being beautiful and exotic, the values are most impressive. High quality Spice pearls and white round freshwater pearls are available at prices that are attainable to the average jewerly shopper.

Another excellent and somewhat overlooked feature of freshwater cultured pearls is the fact that they are tissue nucleated. Saltwater pearls are cultured by inserting a shell bead of a similar size to the desired finished pearl. The mollusk mearly coats the bead nuclues with nacre to form the end product. Conversely, freshwater pearls are nucleated with a small piece of tissue that acts as an irritant and is absorbed in the process, resulting in a product that is essentially all pearl. In this way, freshwater pearls are much more like the exceedingly scarce natural pearls.

At the rate the Chinese are innovating the pearl industry you can expect to see more exciting products coming to market in the near term.