Last updateTue, 07 Apr 2020 8pm

The surprising story behind your cultured pearls

Mia farmerDo you know that the cultured pearls you’re importing from China, Japan and Tahiti may very likely have at their source a nucleus originating from freshwater mussels in Tennessee?

I sat down recently with David Craig, master appraiser and owner of David Craig Jewelers (davidcraigjewelers.com) in historic Bucks County, PA who shared with me this fascinating backstory of global pearl sourcing.

“I always like getting to the source for gems,” David confided. “Back in the 1980s I happened to be in the Camden, Tennessee area for business and met John La Tandresse. John had been a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II and married a Japanese bride. Absorbing a wealth of technical knowledge about pearls, when he returned to Tennessee he soon discovered the local freshwater Tennessee River provided a quality of water with the precise mineral composition ideal for pearl development.

“Forming the American Pearl Farm, La Tandresse started harvesting natural pearls from local freshwater mussels. Natural pearls are extremely rare in today’s market due to global pollution. Keshi pearls are also non-nucleated like other natural pearls. More abundant than other natural pearls, they often are smaller, irregular sizes, but very beautiful.

Mia John“La Tandresse realized that there was a global market for the local freshwater mussel shells to be used as nuclei in the process of pearl culturing. Forming the Tennessee Shell Company, he began exporting tons of shells to Asian pearl farmers. His company soon became the world’s primary supplier of shell nuclei forming the core of most nucleated pearls. So the cultured pearls you’re importing from the Far East may well have as their source core material from our own Tennessee River!”

For his efforts La Tandresse is known as the “Father of American Cultured Pearls.” His surviving daughters Gina and Renee continue to run the American Pearl Farm in Camden, TN where you can visit its museum and showroom.

David Craig’s fascination with pearls continued. Around the year 2000 he toured Tahiti on a fact-finding mission, touring the local pearl farms and gleaning information from the source. He features several varieties of cultured pearls at David Craig Jewelry in Langhorne, PA, including Tahitian and Akoya, the saltwater pearl from Japan, which he considers to still be the premier cultured saltwater pearl.

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So the next time you’re showing a beautiful pearl necklace, ring, bracelet or earrings to a customer, share with them the fascinating backstory of the global development of this unique organic gem. Classic, elegant and timeless, pearls have a surprising ability to re-invent themselves in fresh, innovative designs. Along with diamonds and colored gems they’re a perennial customer favorite.

Mia Katrin is an award-winning jewelry designer featured in over 100 top stores nationally. She is available for lectures and seminars. To add her Collections or book a lecture: www.jeweljewel.com, 877-539-3569, facebook.com/MiaKatrinforJEWELCOUTURELLC, subscribe to her YouTube channel www.youtube.com/channel/UC2B-53XBuB_HD5-bofc5jAA