Pearls are some of the most unique and interesting gems on the market, and the Biwa pearl is no exception. Because each type of pearl forms in a specific type of oyster or mussel in a certain location, there are several different varieties, and each has its own appearance and characteristics. Biwa pearls are unusually shaped cultured pearls that come from the freshwater mussels found in Lake Biwa, Japan. They have been produced since the 1930s and made pearl ownership much more attainable for people who could not afford natural and cultured saltwater pearls.

Let’s take a closer look at Biwa pearls and their history.

History of Biwa Pearls

Biwa pearl necklace

Pearls of all types form as a reaction to an irritant inside the shell of mollusks like oysters and mussels. The mollusk reacts to the irritation by secreting a substance known as nacre, which is also used in shell-building. In time, the nacre builds up to form a pearl. When this happens in nature, a natural pearl is created. When a technician introduces an irritant into the shell of an oyster or mussel, however, the resulting pearl is referred to as “cultured.”

The Japanese first cultured true pearls using freshwater mussels. A man named Kokichi Mikimoto is credited with perfecting the technique of culturing freshwater pearls through experiments conducted by him and his associates in 1920 at Lake Biwa, which is a large lake located near Kyoto. They seeded mussels using only soft mantle tissue, which resulted in an all-nacre pearl with an unusual shape and nice luster. The Biwa pearls also formed in several colors that were previously unseen, and they were easy to mass produce. In fact, technicians quickly learned that they could place several small pieces of mantle tissue in one mussel and harvest up to 15 to 20 stones from each. These commercial freshwater pearl crops first appeared in the 1930s, and Biwas quickly set the standard for quality for freshwater pearls. They also made pearls more affordable than they had ever been in the past.

By the 1950s, Biwa pearls were widely available as affordable and colorful alternatives to natural and cultured saltwater pearls. The success of Biwa pearls was so great that, until recently, nearly all freshwater pearls were referred to as Biwas.

Freshwater Pearl Color Beads

Today, unfortunately, Biwa pearl production has slowed down dramatically. In recent decades, development has taken its toll on the industry. Pollution and overfishing have damaged the mollusk beds at Lake Biwa, and competition from China has all but driven the farmers at Lake Biwa out of business.

Biwa Pearl Beads Today

For decades, all freshwater pearls were referred to as Biwa pearls. Even now, many so-called “Biwa” pearls are actually cultured in China and then sold from Japan. In the United States, however, Biwa pearl beads may only be called such if they are actually from Lake Biwa. Because cultured pearls originating from Lake Biwa are rarer and more valuable than freshwater pearls cultured elsewhere, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission considers calling all freshwater pearls “Biwa pearls” an unfair trade practice if they are not cultured in Lake Biwa.

Genuine Biwa pearls come in several different colors and they feature interesting shapes that make for interesting jewelry pieces. Biwa pearl beads are available in side-drilled and top-drilled varieties, and they can be used in a wide range of projects.

Biwa Pearl Properties

Biwa pearls are said to have the power to purify the thoughts that go through a person’s mind and body. They are also believed to enhance one’s awareness and help them express their highest selves. They also share many metaphysical properties with other types of pearls.

Close up of freshwater pearls

Pearls are believed to bring money, safety, love and luck to the people who wear them. They also help solidify friendships and romantic relationships. In addition, pearls are believed to protect children from all types of harm.

In Conclusion

Biwa pearls have a long and interesting history. Originating in the 1920s in Japan, they made pearls more affordable around the world by the 1930s. The production of these unique gems remained strong until progress brought other industries to the shore of Lake Biwa and resulted in pollution. Other problems, like overfishing, have also plagued the industry. Today, genuine Lake Biwa pearl beads are quite rare. If you are shopping for this type of pearl, it is best to only purchase from trusted vendors. At Beads of Cambay, we have top-drilled and side-drilled genuine Biwa pearl beads in a variety of colors. Browse our selection today!