Another great question from one of our Pearl Girls wanting to know, is this pearl real?!
Hi there! My mother left me some jewelry when she passed. Amongst the items was this pendant. It’s set in sterling silver and is about 3″ long. I was curious as to whether the “pearl” is real, or whether it’s mother of pearl, etc-and also, obtaining a value for it. Thanks for any help you can provide!
Thanks for your questions and what a lovely pendant from your mamma! I am always happy to tell you about your pearls! I prefer not to place a value on your pearls for two reasons. One is because I have not been trained as an appraiser and that line of work is not really my passion! The other reason is because I think sentimental value far exceeds book value so sometimes we find great value in things other people do not. So, I always want to pay homage to that intrinsic value! Now, back to your pendant…
Yes, this pearl is real. If you were to search the internet for a similar looking pearl, you would hear the name Biwa pearl or stick pearl. As you may know, Japan is the home of the first commercial cultured pearls and Japanese pearls are primarily cultured in saltwater. Well, way back in the early 1900s, up until WWII, industry leaders in Japan attempted to cultured pearls in freshwater. They realized this would be cost effective and (hopefully) involve less risk that culturing pearls in the ocean. Biwa was a Lake in Japan where the Japanese first attempted to culture freshwater pearls but they could not create round freshwater pearls in Lake Biwa. Most of the pearls had incredible beauty, luster and coloring however they resembled the shape of Rice Krispies. So, it took the Chinese taking over and working hard to finally figure out how to culture gem quality round pearls in freshwater.
But, the name kind of stuck and even now people mistakenly believe freshwater is another name for pearls that are not round. Many people also still dub freshwater pearls Biwa pearls in honor of the early freshwater pearls from Japan. So, just because these pearls are called Biwa pearls does not necessarily mean they are from Lake Biwa.
My experience with Lake Biwa are best illustrated in this image from P.G. Read’s book, Gemmology:
As you can see, these Biwa pearls are small and misshapen. I have read that Biwa pearls could have an elongated shape like your mammas pearls but there are also so many “Biwa” pearls on the market and these definitely do not come from Japan or Lake Biwa, so I do not know the accurate info.
So, to recap: Yes, this is a real pearl and a lovely pendant. Depending on the age of the pearl, it could be a freshwater pearl from Japan or China. Finally. people usually refer to this pearl as a Biwa pearl (which is not an entirely accurate name) or simply a stick pearl.
I hope that helps!
I am a modern day treasure hunter who travels the world for gorgeous pearls and amazing adventures. I own a pearl jewelry and jewelry repair business, ThePearlGirls.com, with a cute retail store in Athens, GA. I also have a Pearl Travel business and travel blog at TheWorldofPearl.com.