Freshwater Pearls from US Rivers? Yes!

Loyal readers of this blog were surprised to read about Mississippi River fresh water pearls that we featured in our post about Mother’s Day gifts for the mother in law. Although these pearls have been known for a long time now, many jewelry buyers still associate the purchase of a pearl with a piece that hails from overseas. In response, the experts at Peter Suchy Jewelers have put together a little FAQ about America’s freshwater pearls.
Q: When did collectors first discover freshwater pearls in American Rivers?
A: As noted by the federal Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), this practice was already common in the 1800s. Locals around the Upper Mississippi Riverdiscovered that the local river mussels were not just great for eating but also for yielding treasure in the form of pearls.
Q: What makes Mississippi River pearls so unique?
A: There are about 18 species of mussels associated with pearls that live in the river. Each differs not only in shape but also in color. It is the latter that determines the hue of the pearl. Although white is a common pearl color, it is not unusual to also find pink ones. For example, sand shell mussels frequently produce orange pink pearls while the mucket is known for its fine white pearl production.
Another reason why these freshwater pearls are so unique is the shape that they present. Unlike the perfectly symmetrical pieces that come from high-efficiency farming, these pearls feature a wide variety of shapes that clever jewelers have used for decades as the design inspiration for jewelry settings. For example, the teardrop shape is common when the pearl forms toward the back of the mussel’s shell. Irregular formations take place elsewhere.
Q: Are there other places where American fresh water river pearls come from?
A: You bet! If there are river mussels present, there is a good chance that pearls are not far behind. Case in point is the Tennessee River, which has produced very fine freshwater pearls for decades and is actually well represented in our vintage jewelry collection. With respect to this river, the washboard mussel produces them. Due to the animal’s unique shape and life cycle, the shape of the pearl is affected accordingly.
And there you have it. What has been considered by many a Japanese stronghold has actually also been a homegrown business. That said, the real charm of America’s river pearls is the individuality of their shapes and hues. By the way, we have plenty of American river pearl pieces in our inventory!
At Peter Suchy Jewelers we are experts in all types of vintage, estate and antique jewelry. We hope you’ll stop by our showroom located at 1137 High Ridge Road in Stamford Connecticut.
Or, hop on over to our top-rated BigCommerce Store where you’ll find all the vintage American river freshwater pearl gemstone jewelry you see here. If you find a listing has ended, please email us at as we may still have the item in stock.
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