Freshwater Pearl Beads

Written by Sarah Provost
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Six thousand years ago, in ancient Sumeria, important personages were buried with a pearl in their left hand. One of the primary reasons why Julius Caesar invaded Britain in the sixth century was to obtain freshwater pearls. Throughout history, pearls have held a fascination unmatched by other gems.

Pearls are organic gems, produced by a living creature. When an irritant is introduced into a mollusk, the animal responds by "quarantining" the intrusive object by covering it with layers of nacre, also called mother of pearl. As the layers build up over the course of years, a pearl is produced. Naturally occurring pearls are very rare these days, so most pearls are "cultured" by deliberately introducing the irritant into farmed mollusks.

Freshwater pearls, as the name implies, are produced by mussels that live in rivers, lakes and streams. Their shape and color varies according to the environment and the type of irritant. Large round pearls are less common than smaller, rice-shaped pearls. Many people especially prize the irregularly shaped Baroque pearls.

Caring for Freshwater Pearls

The surface of a pearl is soft, so care must be taken to maintain their luster. Pearls are strung with a knot between each bead, to prevent the beads from scratching each other. They should be wiped with a soft cloth after each wearing, and if necessary, gently washed by hand in soapy water. Do not use any jewelry cleaning compounds on pearls, since it will remove the top layers of nacre.


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