Chinese Pearl Mussel

Part of the Pearls exhibition.

Cristaria plicata and Hyriopsis cumingii

Since around A.D. 500, the Chinese have placed molds with tiny Buddha images in freshwater Cockscomb Pearl Mussels to create Buddha blister pearls--the world's first cultured pearls. In the 1800s, Qing dynasty rulers prized natural Chinese freshwater pearls, especially from Manchuria, over marine pearls. Pearls from the Cockscomb, however, the first Chinese pearl mussel used in modern pearl culturing, were considered of poor quality. In contrast, those produced from the Chinese Triangleshell since the 1980s rival marine pearls in luster, color range and availability.

Triangleshell Pearl Mussel Hyriopsis cumingii (Lea, 1852)Ranges naturally in China and Japan

The Triangleshell has a thicker shell than the Cockscomb, with pink to peach-colored nacre. Both natural and cultured Triangleshell pearls occur in a wide range of colors, from white to pink, lavender and deep rose.





Cockscomb Pearl Mussel Cristaria plicata (Leach, 1815)Ranges naturally in China and Japan
Photo: Erica and Harold Van Pelt.AMNH #4893, © AMNH and the Van Pelts.

Buddha pearls on a Chinese freshwater mussel shell. This culturing technique has been practiced by the Chinese since the 5th century C.E. This shell is also the source of "rice crispie" pearls.