The Use of the Term "Japanese Akoya Pearls"
For the last century Japan has been the undisputed champion producer of Akoya pearls. Japanese Akoya pearls have been known as the hallmark of classic quality and grace. Pearliculture of Akoya pearls only began 100 years ago with the technique used by Kokichi Mikimoto - the same technique of nucleus insertion used today.
But, as with so many other monopolized industries in the world, the strength of the Japanese in the Akoya pearl industry has finally come to an end. The end has been visible to many over the last half-decade, but only recently has this been recognized and accepted by industry authorities.
With strong supplies of Chinese Akoya pearls pouring into Japan, more than 80% of Japanese Akoya pearl farmers are conducting operations in the red.* This is a trend that cannot continue indefinitely, but there is no clear end in sight with Akoya prices remaining stable.
With the high price of Japanese materials and the low price of Chinese materials, factories in Japan are now increasingly turning to China as their main pearl source. Japanese factories are rapidly becoming the largest customers of many Chinese Akoya pearl farmers. The pearls are imported from China into Japan, processed, and placed on temporary strands, which are then tagged "Made in Japan".
Due to the fact that any given Akoya pearl necklace today almost certainly contains Chinese Akoya pearls, the JCK** has recently announced that the phrase "Japanese Akoya Pearls" is no longer an accurate industry term, and should not be used. The following is an excerpt from the article.
Note that the phrase "Japanese Akoyas" is no longer used, since most strands combine Chinese and Japanese Akoyas. The consensus is that it doesn't matter where they're from as long as quality is high. But don't be fooled by tags that say, "Made in Japan." The strand is made in Japan, but the pearls on it may be Chinese.
What does this mean for the consumer? This clearly shows that consumers should not be deceived by pearl sellers claiming to sell Akoya pearls only from Japan. These sellers charge a premium for cultured Akoya pearls which they may indeed import from Japan. What they are not telling their customers is the fact that not all of the pearls were cultured nor were they harvested in Japan. In fact, Pearl World, The International Pearling Journal, reports that as much as 80% of the pearls in any "Japanese" Akoya pearl necklace are, in actuality, Chinese cultured pearls.
What of those companies that claim to purchase Akoya pearls directly from farms in Japan, many will ask. The answer is quite simple, unlike pearl farms in China, farms in Japan sell pearls only to factories where the pearls are polished, bleached, matched and drilled - they do not sell finished hanks of pearls (temporary strands) directly to retailers. As particular farms focus on only one size of pearl (typically within 1mm range), factories must buy pearls from numerous sources to create finished hanks of pearls. With a mix of 80% Chinese and 20% Japanese factories are able to make a handsome profit while the Japanese pearl farmers continue to lose money.
A bright spot for consumers is the fact that many pearl retailers and wholesalers are accepting the fact that Chinese Akoya pearls are, and will continue to be, the standard today, and have the integrity and honesty to express this and to educate their customers. For those retailers who will cling to the "Japanese Pearls Only" policy, eventually their deceit will be their demise.
Learn Why You Should Not Trust the Japanese "Blue Tag of Quality"
- * Reported in Pearl World - The International Pearling Journal, July, August, September Edition.
- ** JCK October Issue Annual Pearl Report
The JCK (Jewelers Circular Keystone) is the undisputed industry authority since 1869, sponsoring the JCK Wholesale Jewelry Show in Las Vegas (one of the largest shows in the world) and publisher of JCK Magazine.