What are Chinese pearls and how much are they worth?

Que sont les perles d'eau douce et quelle est leur valeur ?

When we talk about Chinese pearls, we mainly refer to freshwater pearls or Chinese freshwater pearls, as freshwater pearls are now almost exclusively produced in China, even though the country also produces other types of pearls including South Sea pearls and Akoya pearls.

What are Chinese pearls? Freshwater pearls? Chinese freshwater pearls?

China is one of the first countries in the world to discover and utilize pearls (zhenzhu 珍珠). As early as more than 4,000 years ago, Chinese people have already recorded content about mussels producing pearls in the book “Shang Shu Yu Gong (尚书禹贡)”.

Currently, China is the largest producer of cultured pearls in the world, producing more than 1500 tons of pearls each year, accounting for over 95% of the world’s total production.

To be detailed, for example, it produced a staggering 1500 tonnes of freshwater cultured pearls and 20 tonnes of marine cultured pearls from the Akoya oyster in 2010.

Overall, when we talk about Chinese pearls, we mainly refer to freshwater pearls or Chinese freshwater pearls, as freshwater pearls are now almost exclusively produced in China.

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Okay then, what are Chinese freshwater pearls? Properties, colors, shapes, sizes

Freshwater pearls are pearls produced in rivers and streams. They have a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes. Combined with relatively cheaper pricing, they are very popular in the market. Currently, most freshwater pearls are created using freshwater mussels like the tetragon shell mussel (Hyriopsis cumingii).

A wide range of colors

Freshwater pearls are mainly white, pink, orange, and purple, but some have other colors such as yellow, green, blue, brown, or black, with black freshwater pearls being particularly expensive because they are rare.

Various shapes

Since freshwater pearls are cultured without nuclei, they come in various shapes, including round, oval, flat, bun, teardrop, baroque, etc. Round pearls are relatively rare in production and thus more expensive.

Relatively smaller than seawater pearls

The size of freshwater pearls is usually around 3-13 mm, Tahitian pearls 8-16 mm, South Sea pearls 8-13 mm, Akoya pearls 2-10 mm.

Where are freshwater pearls produced?

As mentioned above, freshwater pearls are now almost exclusively produced in China. The main farming areas of freshwater pearls are Zhuji, Changde, Suzhou, Jiangxi, Hubei, and Anhui.

How much are Chinese pearls worth?

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Freshwater pearl cultivation is very productive, as freshwater mussels can generally produce 30-40 pearls. However, since the quality is generally not so good, we can only pick out 1 or 2 perfect ones out of 100.

Even so, the value and price of freshwater pearls are much lower compared to seawater pearls, since a seawater mussel only produces one pearl in its life. Currently, the price of freshwater pearls is about 1/5 of the price of Japanese Akoya pearls.


The price of freshwater pearls depends on the quality and size. Generally speaking, the market price of a 7mm freshwater pearl necklace is about $250, 8mm is about $600, 9mm is about $800 to $1,000, and 10mm is about $3,000.

To conclude, the price of Chinese pearls doubles with every 1mm increase in size.

Advantages of Chinese pearls

What are Chinese pearls and how much are they worth?

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A cheaper price

First, as already mentioned above, freshwater pearls are less expensive.

A greater variety

Secondly, freshwater pearls are richer in size, shape, and color.

For example, Chinese freshwater pearls basically include every kind of odd-shaped pearl you can imagine, such as Teardrop Pearls, Leaf Pearls, Heart Pearls, Rice Pearls, Egg Pearls, Stick Pearls, Potato Pearls, Cross Pearls, Twin Pearls, and Coin Pearls, all of which are breathtaking.

These unique pearls, with all the imagination of the designer, can make interesting and beautiful pieces of fine jewelry.

More durable

Thirdly, since freshwater pearls are nucleus-free cultured, we don’t have to worry about the nacre being worn down, thus causing the nucleus to be exposed to the point where we can no longer wear the pearl.

Specifically, since saltwater pearls are cultured with a nucleus, they have a nucleus made of shell or bone. The larger the nucleus, the thinner the pearl nacre; therefore, the average nacre of saltwater pearls is only 0.3 to 0.8 mm thick. This puts the pearl at risk of wear and tear. And since freshwater pearls are 100% pearly, we don’t have to worry about this problem.

Seawater pearls versus freshwater pearls

Seawater pearls are low yielding, with a mussel producing only one pearl in its lifetime. In addition, the culture process is extremely difficult and it can only be harvested once a year, which means that the cost is high;

While freshwater pearls are more productive because they can produce multiple pearls per mussel, the cost is relatively low.

  1. Formation: seawater pearls are nucleated pearls and freshwater pearls are non-nucleated pearls.
  2. Shape: seawater pearls are generally round, while freshwater pearls are more oval or flat, and have more folds on the surface;
  3. Size: seawater pearls are generally larger than freshwater pearls. The diameter of seawater pearls is generally 6- 14 mm, while freshwater pearls are usually smaller;
  4. Density: generally saltwater pearls are less dense than freshwater pearls;
  5. Growth cycle: the growth cycle of seawater pearls is one or two years, freshwater pearls five to eight years;
  6. Survival rate: the survival rate of seawater pearls is 50%; while the survival rate of freshwater pearls is much higher;
  7. Production: generally seawater mother-of-pearl only produces one pearl, while freshwater mother-of-pearl can form about 30 to 40 pearls;
  8. Growth environment: seawater pearls grow in open seawater, which has more nutrients and plankton; while freshwater pearls grow more in a relatively closed water environment.

Conclusion on Chinese pearls

Thank you for reading this article on Chinese pearls or Chinese freshwater pearls. If it is helpful to you, comment below to let me know or check other articles on pearls that we have published: Pearl colors: A complete guide with categories, meanings, and images.

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