China and the World of Freshwater Pearls
Of the three freshwater pearl producing countries - Japan, China, and the US – China dwarfs them all. The main reason for this is the huge volume of pearls that China produces, along with their extremely competitive price. Other reasons include advances in technology which enable them to produce a wide range of sizes, colors, and overall qualities. This has contributed to the wide variety of pearl necklaces available today.
China began their freshwater market by producing a large quantity of rather low quality freshwater pearls. Today, they have improved the quality dramatically, where one can compare them to top quality saltwater pearls. China continues to produce over 10 times the cultured pearls – saltwater and freshwater - of all other pearl producing countries combined.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, China flooded the market with freshwater cultured pearls. This took many by surprise because China was not known for producing cultured pearls. Most of these pearls were of low quality, and were more appropriately called “rice pearls” due to their strange shape. This large volume and low quality produced some very low prices for these pearls. Unfortunately, even though perhaps 2% of the pearls were mid to high quality, these low prices stuck with all freshwater pearls. The Chinese were forced to create cultured pearls of comparable size and quality to the traditional Japanese Akoya.
From then until now, the Chinese have dramatically increased the quality of their freshwater pearls. There are now exquisite Chinese freshwater pearls available. Prices for freshwater pearls remain much lower than that of Akoya pearls, even though one can find Freshwater pearl jewellery that is of comparable quality. The Chinese are continuing to improve their product as we see from year to year.