John Robert Latendresse (July 26, 1925 in South Dakota – July 23, 2000) is known for being the "father of American cultured freshwater pearls" - USGS. He left home at 13, and lying about his age, joined the U.S. Marines at 15yo serving 38 months in the south pacific during World War II. On his return he moved to Reno, Nevada where he worked as a casino cashier.
Latendresse founded the Tennessee Shell Company in 1954 to supply the shell fragments used to seed pearls to pearl farmers overseas, later founding the American Pearl Company in 1961 to import pearls from Japan. He began experimenting with culturing pearls in the United States resulting in him becoming the first successful North American freshwater pearl farmer and he has been voted one of the pearl industry's most important people of the century.
Latendresse established the first experimental U.S. freshwater cultured pearl farm in Tennessee in 1963 which unfortunately was unsuccessful however it became the foundation of the U.S. freshwater cultured pearl industry. After perfecting his techniques in the late 1970s, he went on to establish a further 4 farms. Latendresse also developed the technique for producing shaped pearls, which he called "fancishapes", which today are used by the American Pearl Company to produce shapes including coin, bar, navette, marquise, teardrop, cabachon and triangle.
The Tennessee River Pearl Farm has since been featured in a variety of national publications and television broadcasts including National Geographic (August 1985), Southern Living Magazine, Forbes (August 6, 1990), Audubon (March 1985), Smithsonian (Jan 1998), Town & Country (Dec 2002), National Geographic video - Splendid Stones (1991) and Sunday Morning News with Charles Osgood (Feb 2002).
- "An interview with John Latendresse". Jerry Smith, Beads & JSBeads.com. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
- Olson, Donald (2002-07-17). "Pearls". United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
- Fassler, Richard. "The return of the American pearl". Island Pearls. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
- Duncan, Julia (2000-07-20). "US Pearl Pioneer dies". Professional Jewller Magazine. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
- "Tennessee Treasures - Pearl Farming". Tennessee Treasures. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
- "American Pearl Company". Retrieved 2009-04-21.
- "Pearl farming in the USA". Retrieved 2009-04-21.