It used to be safe to generalize that a generally round-shaped pearl, nucleated
with a round bead, was always a saltwater product. The traditional round
Japanese Akoya cultured pearl, Oriental pearls and South Sea pearls are all in
this category. These are the pearls most often seen in necklace strands;
however, the market has recently been flooded with Chinese freshwater cultured
pearls that are slightly off-round to somewhat oblong, and these appear quite
similar to the round saltwater cultured pearls. To date these pearls are rather
small--the freshwater mollusks aren't as big as the Akoya oysters--and they are
completely devoid of any rosy hue, tending toward the white to cream or yellow.
Thousands of these strands of the highest quality lack the crisp
reflective luster of the finer Akoya product. The Chinese pearl
farmers may not improve their product over the next few years and it may then be
impossible to sight-separate it from the Japanese Akoya.