Anything can be used as the raw material for pearl nuclei.  Gold, ceramic, crystal, quartz, and many other materials have been used as the core for the cultured pearls.  Now, most of the raw materials come from either China or the US.  There are five major considerations for choosing the best raw materials:

  • ease of making the raw material round
  • efficiency and effectiveness of through-hole drilling
  • resemblance to the core of the natural pearls
  • regrindability, and
  • sustainability.

The Best Material 

The American Freshwater Mussel Shells have been recognized by the cultured pearl industry to be the best material.  Not only they fulfill the four considerations, this material offers the whitest material.  This material has been helping some of the pearl cultivators around the world to produce the best pearls that we have seen in the market.

When a pearl nucleus was rejected during the cultivation stage, it may either be lost forever, or perhaps be retrieved.  After the successful retrieval, it may be reground into a smaller nucleus, or be thrown away as garbage.  For the American Freshwater Mussel Shells, due to its structural integrity, it is possible to be reground into smaller nuclei, but not others.  This helps to save the resources for producing entirely new pearl nuclei.

A Note on Sustainability

Freshwater mussel shell harvesting actually takes a huge toll on the environment.  Each year, over 1000 tonnes of raw materials (approximately 10 million shells that can filter over 2.2 trillion litres per day) are being collected from the freshwater lakes and rivers to produce pearl nuclei for seawater cultured pearls.  This collection amount has taken a huge toll in China's freshwater lakes, resulting in a heavy pollution.  The water's quality is noted to be decreasing annually. Another note is that, during the shell retrieval process, the shell meats are being left to rot under the open air, causing the neighbourhood to smell unpleasantly.

On the contrary, in the US, there is a region-wide activity going on to protect the environment with policies supporting the cause.  While the policies control the area of freshwater mussel shells to be harvested, there are also initiatives that would use the shells to clean the waters as well.

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