Saltwater Pearls

What Are Akoya Pearls?

Akoya Pearls are cultured in the Pinctada Fucata Martensii, also known as the Akoya Oyster. This mollusk is found and farmed primarily in Japan and China. Renowned for their luster, the Akoya is considered to be the classic pearl. The Akoyas are generally white or cream colored, with overtone colors of rose, silver, or cream.

 Akoya Pearls--the Perfect Pearl for Jewelry

The Akoya Oyster is the smallest pearl-producing oyster used in pearl culture today, so Akoya Pearls also tend to be small, ranging in size from about 2 to 11 millimeters. They also tend to be the most consistently round and near-round pearls, making them ideal in terms of matching for multi-pearl jewelry such as strands and bracelets.

China Overtakes Japan

In recent years the Chinese have overtaken the Japanese in Akoya Pearl production. The Chinese began culturing Akoya Pearls in the 1960's, but had limited success until the late 1980's. While once considered inferior to their Japanese counterparts, China is now producing Akoya Pearls of qualities that rival that of the Japanese in every quality factor.

Japanese Industry Reaction

Due to the increased pressure of the Chinese competition, many Japanese pearl farmers have focused much of their attention on culturing large Akoya Pearls.  Quality Akoya Pearls larger than 8 mm are difficult to find in China.

 In lieu of farming smaller pearls, many Japanese factories now import their smaller Akoya requirements from neighboring China. The pearls are treated and strung in Japan so that they may still carry the mark 'Product of Japan'. It has been reported that more than 80% of the pearls 7 mm and smaller have come from Chinese farms regardless of whether or not they are sold by Japanese suppliers as Japanese pearls.


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South Sea Pearls

There are two varieties of Pinctada Maxima, the silver-lipped and the gold-lipped. The two are distinguished by their distinct coloration of the outer edge of the interior.  This type of shell is also known as mother-of-pearl, and is responsible for the coloration of the cultured pearls produced, therefore the name. Unlike the Akoya Oyster, the South Sea Oyster will only accept one nucleation at a time. The oyster is nucleated when it is only about half developed, from 4.7 inches to 6.7 inches in size, or about 24 months old. Although the South Sea Oyster will only handle one nucleus at a time, this oyster (like the Tahitian pearl producing Pinctada Margaritifera) can be nucleated up to three times over the course of many years.

 Why South Sea Pearls grow so large

There are four reasons South Sea Pearls can grow to such large sizes, dwarfing many of their other saltwater pearl counterparts:

             The large size of the Pinctada Maxima

                 •The size of the implanted bead

                 •The length of time the pearl is left to grow in the oyster

                 •And the oyster’s environment.

Due to the size of the oyster, it is able to accept a large bead. The site of implantation (called the gonad)the bead and mantle piece of the Pinctada Maxima is several times larger than that of the Akoya. Because of this larger gonad, the South Sea Oyster deposits nacre around the nucleus at a much quicker rate, especially in warm water, which speeds the oyster’s metabolism.

 The South Seas are also extremely clean and filled with plankton - the Pinctada Maxima's favorite food source. The clean waters and abundant food supply also speeds the nacre production. The growth period for South Sea pearls is also substantially longer than that of the Akoya. Akoya Pearls are harvested after only 9 - 16 months, whereas South Sea Pearls are harvested after a minimum of two years, allowing for a larger size.

South Sea Pearls have several distinct characteristics that are unique to this gem. The nacre is unusually thick, ranging from 2 - 6 mm, compared to the 0.35 - 0.7 mm of an Akoya Pearl. South Sea Pearls have a unique, satiny luster that comes from the rapidly deposited nacre and warm waters of the South Seas. South Sea Pearls also have a subtle array of colors - typically white, silver, and golden - that are rare in other pearl types.

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Tahitian Pearls

Among the most beautiful in the world, Tahitian Pearls are produced in the black-lipped oyster ‘Pinctada Margaritifera’, in and around Tahiti and the French Polynesian islands. This oyster itself is quite large - sometimes over 12 inches across and weighing as much as 10 pounds - which often results in much larger-than-average pearls. The pearls are unique because of their natural dark colors. Most "black" Tahitian Pearls are not actually black, but are instead silver, charcoal, or a multitude of colors with the dominant color being green. Truly black pearls are among the most beautiful pearls in the world, and are extremely rare.

 Almost Hunted To Extinction

Not only are the pearls beautiful, but the black-lipped oyster's mother-of-pearl inner shell is also extremely attractive. By the early part of the 20th century, before conservation and repopulation efforts began, the Tahitian Pearl Oyster had almost been hunted to extinction for its shell alone.

 Tahitian Pearls - Not From Tahiti

Although Tahitian Pearls are thought by many to be solely a product of Tahiti, this is in fact not true.

Tahiti is the commercial center and trading hub for the bulk of the industry, however Tahiti does not have any pearl farms actually located on the island.

The farms are instead scattered throughout French Polynesia, as far to the east as the Gambier Islands, and beyond French Polynesia to the west into the Micronesian Islands. Australia, the Seychelles and Vietnam have all produced black pearls as well, but those cannot be referred to as Tahitian pearls.

 Tahitian Pearl Farming Begins

Tahitian Pearl farming has much later commercial origins than its other cultured pearl cousins. In the early 1960's a man by the name of Jean-Marie Domard began experimenting with the ‘Pinctada Margaritifera’ using Japanese culturing techniques. In 1962, Mr. Domard successfully nucleated 5,000 oysters, and after 3 years harvested more than 1,000 high-quality Tahitian Pearls. 

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