Press - Gems and Gemology, Oct 2011

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 cumingii 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

GIA.EDU – the Gemological Institute of America