Tennessee is the home of the only freshwater pearl farm in North America.
Pearls have long been recognized as a symbol of purity and their popularity has remained stable for centuries. Pearls for ornaments and jewelry are formed by oysters or mussels on farms found mostly in Japan, China, South Seas and of course in Tennessee. Freshwater pearls are rarely found naturally in the Tennessee washboard mussel. Most of the pearls are grown at the only culturing farm operation in North America at Birdsong Resort near Camden, Tennessee on the Tennessee River. The pearls are composed of concentric layers of a crystalline substance called nacre which is calcium carbonate. It is this nacre that gives the pearl its lustrous iridescence and accounts for must of the pearl’s beauty.
When we toured the Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Farm in May, we were lucky to have been escorted by Adrienne who is the designer of the freshwater pearl cabochons which her customers use as ornaments. She explained how the pearls take the shape of ornaments. Adrienne said that there are different methods of seeding the mussels for pearls and that the implant method is the most suitable for making freshwater pearl ornaments since it gives the pearl farmer the most options for shapes and sizes. The implant or seed is made of the same material as the mussel shell and can be shaped to any size prior to implanting and it is actually implanted in the mussel. A round implant causes a round pearl to be formed and a triangle implant in the mussel will form a triangle pearl.
It sounds more simple than it really is of course, because there is a 3-5 year wait after the mussel with the implant is moved to the farm in the Tennessee River while mother nature works her magic. It isn’t all magic however, because the mussels are closely monitored during this time for temperature and water quality and there are very few technicians that are skilled at implanting the seeds into mussels. It took many years before the Japanese technique of culturing pearls was successfully adapted to the Tennessee native waters and mussels, and 1984 was the first year that a productive harvest was turned. Thanks to the diligence of culturing farm founder John Latendresse, cabochons and jewelry (wearable ornaments) can be viewed and ordered at TennesseeRiverPearls.com. If your interest is peaked, you can read more about the process of culturing freshwater pearls and perhaps even tour the Tennessee River Pearl Farm & Museum.
Article and images used with permission from BirdsongResort.com