With graduations, weddings and Mother’s Day on the spring calendar, this is a good time to check out the American Pearl Co.’s Friends and Family Sale, where you can purchase pearl necklaces, earrings, bracelets and more at half the suggested retail price.

How about some pearl studs for $24 or a Tennessee pearl pendant for $40? There is even a promotional item, a necklace featuring floating white pearls on a 14-karat gold-filled chain for $16.

“We have several things under $25,” said American Pearl owner Gina Latendresse, whose company is a wholesaler that sells to the public only during these limited spring and fall sales.

“Some people have been following us for 20 years, and some are friends and family of our regular shoppers,” she said. She added that social distancing would be enforced and that in addition to open sale days over the next several weeks, shoppers can make appointments for private shopping. Sale dates began April 12.

The American Pearl Co. is an interesting Nashville company, with a pearl history stretching back to 1954.

Latendresse’s late father, John Latendresse, had been an importer of Japanese pearls, but when he saw that he could harvest pearls from mussels in Tennessee lakes and rivers, his company took off. He established a unique pearl farm on the Tennessee River in Camden in the late 1970s, which produced thousands of pearls, ready to be incorporated into all sorts of jewelry in the United States and around the world.

The Tennessee pearl has been the official state gem since 1982.

The American Pearl Co.’s current inventory includes thousands of designs, traditional and contemporary, and using cultured and natural pearls in many colors and shapes. Retail prices range from $40 into the thousands, but all pieces are half-off at this twice-a-year Friends and Family Sale.

The process of growing pearls includes surgically placing a mother of pearl in the soft tissue of a mussel, returning the mussel to the river and then allowing for a three- to five-year growing period for a pearl to form.

In addition to establishing the pearl farm, the Latendresses built relationships with artisans and goldsmiths to create the jewelry, and with nationwide retailers to sell it.

When John Latendresse died in 2000, his daughter Gina, who had been involved with the pearl trade all of her life, took over. She eventually downsized the company and now is a wholesaler, selling pearls and pearl jewelry to specialty retailers and jewelry artists around the world.

About 20% of the American Pearl Co. jewelry inventory includes pearls from the Camden pearl farm, with the other 80% of the pearls being imported from Japan, China, Tahiti and Australia.

If you are interested in knowing more about the pearl harvesting process, take a field trip to the Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Farm and Museum, which is part of the Birdsong Resort, Marina and Campground on the Tennessee River in Camden.

Mary Hance, who has four decades of journalism experience in the Nashville area, writes a weekly Ms. Cheap column. She also appears on Thursdays on “Talk of the Town” on NewsChannel 5. Reach her at mscheap@mainstreetmediatn.com and follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/mscheap.

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