The Fashion Buzz on Freshwater Pearls: Goodbye Rice Krispies, Hello High Fashion

Just a decade ago, the average freshwater pearl was a small, wrinkly white bead resembling a Rice Krispy. Today, these lustrous beauties are available in a range of sizes – some up to 12mm in diameter – a rainbow of natural colors and some fabulous unique shapes. Unlike their akoya and South Sea cousins, which are grown from round beads, freshwater pearls are formed around tiny pieces of tissue implanted in mollusks. The irregular shapes of the tissue often result in fancy shapes, such as crosses, coins and freeforms.

However, the greatest innovation from Chinese pearl farmers has been the development of a bumper crop of large, round freshwater pearls whose appearance rivals that of rare akoya pearls, yet at far lower prices.

Because of their popular prices and greater availability, freshwater pearls are the stars of bold and stylish jewelry that goes far beyond the basic pearl choker. In fact, many top designers have created entire collections around freshwater pearls, using their unique shapes and flattering colors in bold necklaces, cascading earrings and multistrand bracelets. Among the most wanted colors of the season are plum, lavender, peach and mauve and some of the hottest designs mix several different colors in a single piece.

For real drama, consider large button stud earrings, each made from a single, coin-shaped pearl. Looking for versatility and style? Select a long rope of all-pearls or freshwater pearls accented with gold or colored-stone beads that can be wrapped, knotted or layered to create a variety of different looks.

Fashion forward? Choose chandelier earrings with freshwater drops, one-of-a-kind pendants of freeform pearls or bold cocktail rings set with pearls of different shapes and colors.