Freshwater pearls are quite a bit more common than saltwater pearls. That doesn’t mean that freshwater pearls can’t be rare and expensive, though. Pearls are popularly used to make jewelry, and many people love utilizing freshwater pearls for this. Many companies and countries are focused on providing the world with many freshwater pearls.

The majority of freshwater pearls are procured through farming methods. It’s a bit rarer to find these pearls in the wild. Pearls can form naturally, but it’s easier to get pearls in large quantities by farming them. Below, you’ll learn a bit about freshwater pearl farming so that you can understand the process.

Table of Contents

Pearl Farming Explained

The process of pearl farming isn’t too complicated once you understand the basics. First, you should learn a little bit about how pearls are formed. Pearls are formed inside mollusks, and various types of mollusks can make pearls. The pearls come into being because a foreign substance invades the shell of the mollusk.

A piece of the shell or something from outside the shell will make its way inside. Then the body of the mollusk will surround the foreign substance with nacre. Over time, the nacre will continue to form around this foreign substance and form a pearl. The foreign substance acts as a nucleus for the pearl.

Pearl farm in Japan
Pearl farm in Japan

This is a basic explanation of how pearls are formed. Pearls are also sometimes formed in slightly different ways, but that’s a different discussion. For now, you just need to know that it’s rarer for pearls to form naturally. In nature, pearls may or may not form depending on what happens.

The conditions aren’t always ideal for pearls to form. Also, whether a foreign substance will be introduced into the mollusk’s shell depends on happenstance. Farming allows humans to play a role in making the pearls form. Natural pearls are rarer than cultured pearls, but farming is the only reliable way to get pearls in mass quantities.

So how does farming occur? Farming is a method where people pluck mollusks from bodies of water and place them in convenient farming locations. The mollusks are placed in ideal scenarios that will allow pearls to form. The farmers will implant a nucleus into the mollusk so that a pearl can be formed.

The Process of Cultivating Pearls

Cultivating freshwater pearls commonly begins by harvesting mussels. Freshwater mussels are seen as ideal choices for this process. People cultivate pearls from other freshwater mollusks as well, though. Freshwater pearls have the potential to be quite large, and they’re also known for being lustrous. On farms, pearl farmers will care for thousands of mussels or oysters.

It takes a fair bit of time for pearls to form even under ideal conditions. Generally, pearl farming will take between two and five years. During this time, pearl farming is tasked with implanting the pearls. The term “nucleating” is used to describe the process of implanting a nucleus into a mollusk for the purpose of pearl production.

Farmers continue to care for the oysters and monitor them until it’s time to harvest the pearls. During harvesting, the pearls are carefully extracted. They can then be sent off to be used in jewelry. This is a lucrative field that is important to the success of various communities around the world.

How Do Pearl Farmers Obtain Oysters or Other Mollusks?

In the past, pearl farmers had to obtain oysters and other mollusks by fishing them out of the sea. Japanese pearl divers of the past would dive into the waters and grab oysters or other mollusks. Today, there are still people who obtain oysters by diving for them or fishing them out of the water. However, it’s more common for farms to obtain oysters by breeding them.

Pinctada margaritifera
Pinctada margaritifera

It’s simple to breed oysters and various other types of mollusks. When breeding oysters, you simply need to collect oyster eggs and then fertilize them with oyster sperm. Breeders do their best to only use high-quality stock to produce the best oysters possible. This allows farms to continuously create new generations of oysters that they can utilize.

They still need to care for the oyster larvae so they can reach the right age to be used, of course. Breeders keep oyster larvae in tanks with ideal conditions. After a few weeks have passed they can be moved to normal waters where they’ll attach to rocks. It takes a few months for the larvae to grow into a full-fledged oyster.

When the time is right, people will collect the oysters. Oyster farms keep the small baby oysters in a section of the farm known as a nursery. The baby oysters need to be cared for and allowed to grow for one or two years. Once they’re the right size, they’ll be ready for the nucleation process.

Potential Complications

What you’ve learned so far might make pearl farming seem simple. The concept is simple, but things can go wrong during the process. Sometimes oysters will get sick after they’ve been nucleated. They might even reject the foreign substance and attempt to expel it.

It’s even possible that oysters can die while they’re recovering from implantation. Normally, it takes a few weeks for an oyster to recover after being implanted. Most oysters survive, but some will not. The surviving oysters will be put in either cages or nets before being lowered into oyster beds.
Pearl Farming : A How To Guide

The beds are where the oysters stay until it’s time for the pearls to be harvested. As noted earlier, the process generally takes years. So it might not be a complex process when you break down the steps, but it’s still a time-consuming one. It’s impressive to note that so many companies and countries have large-scale pearl farming operations.

In Closing

Learning more about freshwater pearl farming should make you feel a greater appreciation for pearls. The farming process is easy to understand, but it’s something that takes a lot of time. Even under the best conditions, it’ll take years for pearls to form. Regardless, it’s much easier to do things on a farm than it is to hope that pearls form naturally.

About the Author


I am a pearl and oyster enthusiast who loves to share her knowledge and experiences about fashion with the world. I am neither a certified gemologist nor a reseller of pearls.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}