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Japanese Pearls: Akoya, Biwa & Kasumi

Posted by Pearls Of joy on 7/15/2013 to General
Japanese pearls are revered throughout the world for their exquisite beauty. Japan has a thriving pearl industry and its pearls command center stage in jewelry markets everywhere. When considering Japan’s pearls, the cultured sea pearls known as Japanese Akoya pearls are most often regarded as the country’s loveliest pearls. While Akoya pearls are now cultured in other waters(China & Vietnam), it’s the Japanese Akoya pearl that owns the largest market share.

Akoya Pearl History

The process of culturing pearls was discovered in the late nineteenth century by the British marine biologist William Saville-Kent. Tatsuhei Mise and Tokichi Nishikawa learned of Saville-Kent’s discoveries and brought the information home to Japan where they received a patent for their process. While entrepreneur Mikimoto Kokichi is often associated with Japan’s early pearl-culturing success, he was not involved in the initial discovery process. He married Nishikawa’s daughter, however, and became involved with Akoya pearl culture at the genesis of Japan’s pearl industry.

Japanese Akoya Pearls

freshly harvested japanese akoya pearl

An Akoya pearl with exceptional luster ready to be harvested and used in jewelry. GIA.com


Japanese Akoya pearls are cultivated in bivalve mollusks of the Pinctada genus—specifically Pinctada fucata and Pinctada chemnizti. Today’s producers often incorporate a process of hybridization to achieve the pearl size and luster associated with Japan’s Akoya pearls. During cultivation, according to the Cultured Pearl Association of America, “Only one pearl and maybe an accidental Keshi pearl is harvested from one oyster. This is one reason why sea pearls are usually higher price than freshwater pearls.” Employing the technique known simply as nucleus insertion, the technique discovered more than a hundred years ago by Saville-Kent, Japan has become the undisputed leader of the cultured Akoya pearl industry.

The Beauty of Akoya Pearls

different grades of japanese saltwater cultured pearls

From top to bottom, these Japanese saltwater cultured pearls show excellent, very good, good, fair, and poor luster. The differences in the sharpness of the reflections between each adjacent strand are subtle but still noticeable. From GIA.com


Typical sizes of Akoya pearls fall into a range between 6-8 mm, but they may range anywhere between 2-10 mm. Japanese Akoya pearls are famous for their luster which is sometimes described as metallic. The most valuable Akoya pearls are large, highly lustrous, and perfectly round in shape. While usually white in appearance, Akoya pearls may exhibit overtones of pink, cream or silver. Their enchanting appearance is why they have become synonymous with classic Japanese pearls.

Biwa and Kasumi Pearls

Complementing Japan’s Akoya pearl industry, freshwater Biwa and Kasumi pearls are also renowned in their own right. Biwa pearls were once harvested from Lake Biwa, an ancient Japanese lake near Kyoto. Sadly pollution has all but ceased all Biwa pearl cultivation. They are more colorful than sea pearls and tend to be less expensive as well. Kasumi pearls hail from the misty waters of Lake Kasumi-ga-ura near Tokyo. Color-wonderful and Baroque in shape, Kasumi pearls are sometimes found in hues of vibrant purple, pink, and even golden-green. Consequently, whatever their origin—seawater or freshwater, Japan’s pearls have enjoyed worldwide esteem.

View our Japanese Akoya Pearls>>>

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