What are Akoya pearls?
An Akoya pearl, or "Japanese pearl," is cultivated from the saltwater akoya-gai oyster. It is the first type of cultured pearl cultivated, and is still cultivated using the same pearliculture technique originally developed by William Saville-Kent and used by Kokichi Mikimoto. This original technique of nucleus insertion still used today is part of how Akoya pearls maintain the high standard of quality that has led to them being synonymous with elegance, quality, and grace. Today, Akoya pearls are cultivated in both Japan and China. They are renowned for their luster and considered to be the classic pearl.
Why Akoya Pearls?
Pearls are back in fashion as the ultimate in classic and understated fashion. A simple strand of pearls can add a quiet elegance to everyday outfits, or evoke classic 1940's glamour with an evening gown. The real beauty of pearl necklaces is the versatility, as an Akoya pearl necklace can be worn with anything, from formal gowns to business suits or jeans. Because of the timelessness of pearls, Akoya pearl necklaces and jewelry are the ideal gift for any occasion. It doesn't matter whether it's for a wedding, anniversary; birthday, holiday, or graduation, Akoya pearl necklaces are the perfect way to show appreciation and affection. Since the akoya oyster is the smallest pearl-producing oyster used today, akoya pearls are smaller and more delicate, which is particularly ideal for matching the pearls into consistently-sized pearl strands for necklaces, bracelets and watch bands.
How To Choose an Akoya Pearl Necklace
Pearls in jewelry are valued according to the color, luster, lack of surface flaws, nacre, symmetry and size as is appropriate to the jewelry style. Most jewelers consider luster and lack of surface flaws as the most important differentiators of pearl quality. Pearls that score highly in each value (except size) are said to be of hanadama quality. Though hanadama means "highest quality," there is a bit of range even within the traits of "hanadama quality."
Read More »
Akoya pearls collected in the wild range from silver, silver-blue and white to yellow and cream, often with secondary overtones of pink, silver and green. Cultivated Akoya pearls are most often white, with a slight rose or silver overtone achieved as part of the cultivation process. Cultivated pearls undergo a luster enhancement pre-treatment called maeshori, and often undergo bleaching and pinking process with organic dyes in order to create a more uniformly white pearl with pink undertones. The most common colors of akoya pearls available are:
- White: White pearls often have a silvery or rose undertone to them, and are a popular yet subtle update on the classic cream tone traditionally associated with pearls.
- Black: Black pearls are very rarely true black. Rather, they are usually shades of purple, green, blue, grey, silver, or what is called "peacock," which is a mixture of several shades. Black akoya pearls are popular because of their unique and modern look.
- Cream: The tone most commonly associated with pearls, a cream akoya pearl necklace is a timeless and elegant gift that will go with any outfit or occasion.
- Gold: Though Akoya pearls are usually white or cream toned, sometimes the normally subtle nuances of gold overtones can rise to the surface and appear more noticeable than the base color.
The mirror-like luster of Akoya pearls is part of what makes them such timeless and treasured pearls. Since luster is the most important factor in grading pearls, a small pearl strand with strong luster is considered more valuable than a large pearl strand with fair or poor luster. All in all, there are five categories of luster a pearl can fall within.
- Excellent: The reflections appear crisp, bright and distinct.
- Very Good: The reflections are less distinct, but still appear bright and crisp.
- Good: - Reflections are bright, but neither distinct nor crisp in quality.
- Fair: - Reflections are not bright or distinct. Instead they are weak and images appear blurred.
- Poor: - If reflections even show up, the images cannot be distinguished.
"Surface" means to rate the surface condition of a pearl. It is extremely rare for any pearl to be completely blemish free, but all other factors being equal it is preferable to have a pearl with fewer blemishes. There are three main types of blemishes when considering the surface condition of a pearl.
- Pitting: The pearl has obvious pits, dents, bumps or scratching.
- Reflection: There are light or dull spots within the reflection; the reflection is inconsistent.
- Nacre inconsistency: There are wrinkles or other inconsistencies in the surface of the nacre.
The qualities of a pearls nacre falls within three categories:
- Acceptable: In which the pearl does not appear to be chalky and the pearl's nucleus is not visible.
- Nucleus visible: If the pearl appears to "blink" when rotated, or if the nucleus bead is visible.
- Chalky: - The pearl lacks luster and appears obviously dull.
Size and Shape
Akoya pearls are most often found in sizes between six and eight millimeters, though they can range as low as two millimeters and as high as eleven millimeters. As far as sizing, the perfectly round Akoya pearls are generally more valued, as they are ideal for making symmetrical and consistent strands for necklaces and other jewelry. Sometimes Akoya pearls in the shape of drops, ovals or baroques do reach the market, but in most cases Akoya pearls are valued precisely because of their rounded consistency in shape.