Biwa Pearls / An Interesting History - Adorned by Ruth

Biwa Pearls / An Interesting History

biwa pearls scattered on a white surface

Original Biwa Pearls

Biwa pearls are named for the location in which they were first cultured in Lake Biwa, Japan.  

What are Biwa Pearls?

These irregularly shaped pearls have been dominating runways for the past several years.  They fall under the umbrella category "baroque" for all unique-shaped pearls, which is used to describe any pearl that is not round, nugget or oval.

Natural vs Cultured Pearls

Natural pearls are created when a foreign object enters a mollusk and it forms a layer of nacre around the irritant to protect itself.  The result is a beautiful pearl. Cultured pearls are formed when an irritant, usually a tiny round bead, is deliberately inserted into the shell. The end result is the same, a beautiful pearl. 

In 1893 Kokichi Mikimoto discovered a technique for creating cultured pearls. His experiments at Lake Biwa involved inserting pieces of mantle tissue instead of beads into mussels instead of into oysters and the Biwa pearl was born!  Mikimoto employed female pearl divers, "ama"  whose skills and knowledge helped grow his luxury pearl business. 

Why are Biwa Pearls So Special? 

Because the mantle tissue was of no particular shape, the pearls were wildly irregular in shape. The nacre the mussels secreted was solid and made for pearls with higher iridescence and more intriguing colors.  In addition, Mikimoto's experiments resulted in mussels that produced multiple pearls in each shell making Biwa pearls much more affordable. They came on the market just when the natural, saltwater pearl fishing industry was going into serious decline. Understandably, Biwa pearls became very popular. 

Biwa Pearls Today

Eventually, Lake Biwa became polluted and was no longer suitable for farming mussels. Over time, Biwa has become a generic name that many people use to refer to all freshwater pearls. 

What Do Biwa Pearls Look Like?

Today, pearls that are stick shaped, lumpy and bumpy are what we refer to as Biwas.  They are mostly produced in China and are usually white or off-white in color.

Positive Associations

Biwa pearls are thought to bring many positive things to a person's life.  They are said to increase fertility, build strong relational ties, bring safety, luck and wealth, and much more.

While the original Biwa pearl is a rarity, the Biwas cultured today are affordable and have beauty and high luster.    

Biwa Pearl Jewelry

At A/R we looooovvve irregularly shaped pearls!  Here are a some Biwa pearl pieces to consider if you've caught the Biwa vibe too.



a white biwa pearl set horizontally into 14k gold filled satellite necklace chain

 Biwa pearl necklace on 14k gold filled satellite chain

side view image of a long dangling 14k gold chain earrings with a single long skinny biwa pearl pendant

 Biwa pearls on 14k gold filled threader chains




Biwa pearl bracelet on 14k gold filled satellite chain

single pearl bracelet shown on hand.  The long thin biwa pearl is set horizontally into 14k gold filled satellite chain.
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