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G&G eBrief – Chinese Freshwater Cultured Pearls Beaded with Baroque Freshwater Cultured Pearls


Chinese Freshwater Cultured Pearls Beaded with Baroque Freshwater Cultured Pearls


This contributor recently examined a strand of Chinese freshwater cultured pearls loaned
by Jeremy Shepherd of Pearl Paradise, Los Angeles. They were produced at the same
farm in Jiangsu Province as the so-called Soufflé pearls (“beaded” with mud) that
began appearing on the market in September 2009, according to Mr. Shepherd.

The strand originally consisted of 23 cultured pearls weighing a total of 66.8 g;
two were sacrificed for destructive testing. They were of baroque shape, ranging
from 17.0 x 13.6 mm to 21.0 x 13.6 mm. Colors varied from white with a distinct
purplish green overtone to light purple, purplish green, orange, and bronze with
varying overtones; all displayed a pronounced metallic luster.


X-radiography of 13 of the cultured pearls showed beads with an off-round shape
and features that strongly suggested that nonbeaded freshwater cultured pearls had
been used. One sample was sawn in half, revealing a concentric structure surrounded
by an outer rim of nacre. A second sample was broken apart with a jeweler’s hammer,
confirming that a white freshwater cultured pearl of baroque shape had been used
as a bead.

According to Mr. Shepherd, these cultured pearls were produced using the same type
of mussel as the “Soufflés,” which some believe to be a hybrid of the Chinese Hyriopsis
and the Japanese Hyriopsis schlegelii, though it may
be a local variety of H. cumingii. It is highly likely that both the “Soufflé
pearls” and the “pearl-beaded” samples described here are produced inside the
mussel’s mantle, probably in a later growth phase, by making use of existing pearl
sacs that stemmed from a previous harvest.



- Elisabeth Strack

Gemmologisches Institut Hamburg, German

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