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Don’t Be Fooled by “Chinese Akoya Pearls”

Don’t be Fooled by “Chinese Akoyas”- They’re Actually Bead-Nucleated Chinese Freshwater Pearls.

AGTA – Article by Eric Yen || APRIL 17, 2024

As the Chinese Akoya Pearls market started reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese consumers were eager to splurge, particularly on cultured Pearls. Japanese Akoya Pearls, renowned for their saltwater production, bead-nucleation farming techniques, and high luster, were among the desired varieties. However, global pandemic shutdowns exacerbated an already existing supply shortage, compounded by the aging workforce within the traditional Japanese Pearl farming community. Plus, ecological challenges like pollution-induced mass mollusk die-offs further diminished Pearl availability.

Chinese Akoya Pearls- Villarreal Diamond-Austin, TX,
“Chinese Akoya Pearls” 3-3.5mm bead-nucleated Chinese Freshwater Pearls

As a result, Chinese Pearl farmers and dealers who were enthusiastic to sell to a growing base of consumers started cultivating smaller freshwater Pearls with beads—just like Japanese Akoyas. This process of bead-nucleation was born around 2010 in Asia in a collaboration between Grace Pearl, a company based in Zhuji, Zhejiang Province, and Zhejiang University. Farmers began inserting polished shell beads into the Hyriopsis cumingii oyster species and their hybrids, giving way to smaller size and often much rounder Pearls. These Pearls were dubbed “Edisons” in homage to Thomas Edison, marking a significant advancement in freshwater Pearl production. Edison quality differed greatly from traditional mantle tissue-nucleated freshwater Pearls, which were largely misshapen.

The problem with this new product is that many Chinese businesses call them “Chinese Akoyas” or “Baby Akoya” Pearls when they are actually freshwater Pearls. It’s misleading to consumers, to say the least—akin to the analogy of Kobe beef in America, a product that, while bearing the prestigious name, may not meet the strict criteria associated with it. The term “Akoya,” after all, originates from Japan and specifically refers to the oyster species Pinctada fucata martensii, which thrives exclusively in saltwater environments. Therefore, when encountering labels such as “Chinese Akoya” or “Baby Akoya” Pearls, it’s crucial to be truthful because the inherent value of saltwater Pearls is a minimum of two-thirds greater than freshwater Pearls. U.S. dealers must recognize the term and understand the product so as not to confuse or mislead consumers.

Chinese Akoya Pearls- Villarreal Diamond-Austin, TX,
4-4.5 mm bead-nucleated Chinese Freshwater Pearls

Chinese bead-nucleated freshwater Pearls speak to the remarkable advancements in freshwater Pearl cultivation. Edison Pearls in many sizes typically bear an exceptional mirror luster and near-perfect roundness, with few blemishes—fine products that have garnered them the nickname of little lightbulbs. 

Additionally, there are farms off the coast of the Zhanjiang area of China collaborating with Guangdong University to cultivate saltwater Pearls in Chinese territorial waters. For now, the production volume has been relatively small in comparison to freshwaters, but it will be crucial to distinguish these Pearls from Chinese freshwaters as well because they belong to separate categories within the Pearl industry.

Chinese Akoya Pearls- Villarreal Diamond-Austin, TX,
4-4.5 mm cultured bead-nucleated Pearls; the strands marked with red stars are Japanese Akoya and the others are Chinese freshwater

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