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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Japanese Pearls

I have given more than a few pearl necklaces to women whose company I’ve enjoyed, but never thought I would enjoy wearing on myself.

Okay - all you pervs out there hopefully had a good laugh…

Let’s talk about Japanese pearls, starting with the basics.

It is estimated that people - both men and women  - have been wearing pearls since 520BC.

It was a fashion trend that exhibited either sex’s power and wealth.

Nowadays, men don’t wear pearls… except they do… it’s a recent fashion trend that has men enjoying a pearl necklace (snicker) such as Steven Tyler, Pierce Brosnan, Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pharrell Williams (pictured above).

Hmmm… while I’m not a Pharrell fan (I don’t dislike him, I just have never listened to his music), the rest of the guys on this list are pretty cool.

Pharrell looks like royalty here, but is that a tiara on his head? Wayta go overboard, dude.

Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie pirate role only seemed effeminate, and Areosmith's Stephen Tyler did scream out something about a “Dude Looks Like  A Lady”… but I’ve been a Pierce Brosnan fan from before his turn as James Bond, back before when he was Remington Steel (no one wears a leather dress jacket like that and makes it look elegant!)… and the fabulous fresh prince Will Smith (TV, movies, music star) and damn… that soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo dude who just might be the most handsome man on the planet…

Hey… I’m confident in my own heterosexuality to not have a problem complimenting another man’s appearance - everyone should be able to do that. Women do that all the time, and they aren’t all gay or bisexual… even if you want them to be.

Anyhow, to make a pearl necklace, there’s a lot of prying open of oysters (stop making me laugh)… and to create a 47-pearl 16-inch necklace, sorters have to fine pearls that match each other… meaning it could take searching through 10,000 pearls to find 47 identical ones.

For those of you marveling at the No. 47 - my semi-private joke about how often this number appears - the pearl fact is correct.

Pearls are not just found in oysters... rather you can find them in clams, mussels, and other bi-valve shelled mollusks - such as conch, quahog . I did not know that.

For those of you who wonder how pearls are formed, be prepared to be surprised.

From, I found this:

Natural pearls form when an irritant - usually a parasite and not the proverbial grain of sand - works its way into an oyster, mussel, or clam. As a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, called 'nacre', is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.

I knew it was an irritant, but usually a parasite? Hunh.

Pearl Shapes:

Depending on whom you ask, the pearl is supposed to have "significance".

For example, pearls symbolize innocence, love, perfection and purity.

Gold and black (Tahitian) pearls are symbolic of wealth and prosperity, while freshwater pearls are said to help open the heart to receiving love and to encourage self-love.

I'm pretty sure I don't need pearls to dig self-love. Oh... it doesn't mean what I was thinking...

Japan's pearl industry is reported to be more than US$5-billion a year.

Mikimoto Kokichi (御木本 幸吉 - surname first - March 10, 1858 – September 21, 1954) of Toba-shi (鳥羽市, Toba City) in Mie-ken (Mie Prefecture), Japan, successfully created the world's first cultured pearls.

Mikimoto Kokichi (standing) watching a worker prepare an Akoya oyster for future growth of a pearl.
Mikimoto-san was concerned about the pearl industry in Japan depleting the Akoya oysters from over harvesting by greedy pearl hunters, and decided he would try and grow cultured pearls in 1888. On July 11, 1893, he had his first success after numerous set-backs, including red algae blooms destroying his "farm".

The site of his success is on the island of Ojima near Toba, now known as Mikimoto Pearl Island.

So... what is known as Mikimoto Pearls, are essentially Akoya pearls - only grown or 'cultured' on a oyster pearl farm. It's why they don't get a listing here. But, check'em out at

Therefore, a cultured pearl is a pearl created by an oyster farmer under controlled conditions, and can be done with either freshwater or saltwater mollusk... namely freshwater river mussels, or saltwater clams... but... as mentioned above, any bivalve critter can make a pearl.

Anyhow… there are five varieties of Japanese pearl:
  • Abalone pearls;
  • Akoya pearls;
  • Biwa pearls;
  • Kasumi pearls
  • Kasumiga pearls;
  • Keshi pearls.
Abalone Pearls
Abalone pearls are found naturally in Japan, U.S.A. (California, Oregon, Alaska), Mexico, Korea(s), South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The key word in the above sentence is "naturally". The oyster that produces these pearls is a hemophiliac, meaning that when it is cut, the blood will not clot meaning it can bleed to death.
This means it can not be 'farmed', thus its pearls are found naturally.
But, there is a technique where human intervention will create a "farmed" abalone pearl, that supposedly will not cause it to bleed to death: attach a nucleus (no surgery required) to the inside of the shell... and because a half-spherical plastic bead is used, these resulting pearls normally turn out to be Mabe or blister pearls, which are hollowed out, filled in and backed with a hard back before mounting. But it's not as cool as the real, natural abalone pearl.
As you can see from the image, these pearls are gorgeous! They are the most colorful of all the pearls, and are found in rocky, coastal waters around the world.
These abalone are plentiful... however, they do not tend to get irritated a lot, and thus rarely produce pearls.
It is estimated that one would need to harvest 100,000 abalone to find one pearl that fits the ideal abalone pearl look. That "look" is gauged by its vibrant colors, should have a mirror-like metallic shine, have a symmetrical shape, not be hollow, and measure over 15mm in diameter.
The other issue is that the abalone pearls can grow into different shapes—ergo, no standard shape can be discovered.... it can look like a shark tooth, round, or baroque (see chart above for pearl shapes). Baroque-shaped abalone pearls, however, are the more common form - such as it is.
Colors are iridescent, and contain differing amounts of green, blue, pink, purple, silver, and sometimes creamy white, with the blue and pink hues being the most-prized.

Akoya Pearls
When those in the know think about Japanese pearls, the Akoya pearl is what they mean.
A saltwater cultured pearl from the Akoya oyster (Pinctada fucata martensii), it is the most abundant saltwater pearl, with the longest history.
They are the classic pearl, with perfect round shapes and bright mirror-like luster and neutral colors such as light pink, white, and yellow-ish. Sometimes, these pearls appear in baroque shape, but are not the ideal shape.
Japan is the biggest producer of Akoya pearls over 7mm in size, though they are also found in the Koreas, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, though for pearls under 7mm, China is the biggest supplier. Sizes of 10 to 11mm are rare.
As you would expect, one finds only one pearl in an oyster... except in this oyster's case, you might find two.
One pearl is a standard Akoya pearl, but the other is considered to be a keshi (ケシ - means "poppy"), a small non-nucleated pearl formed by left-over gunk when the real pearl is grown... and is a term for any pearl grown without a nucleus.
Did you know that freshwater oysters/clams can produce multiple pearls at the same time (not that uncommon), thanks to "farming", which is why saltwater pearls are more expensive.
Just because it sounds cool—freshwater—doesn't mean you are getting high quality.
Colors are usually white to grey featuring pink, green or silver overtones.
Rare is the blue Akoya pearl with silver and pink overtones.
Here's the thing... the pearls should look neutral in color... anything else and it means it has been color treated. I know... who knows what the heck you are buying! If you see a black Akoya pearl, for example, you know it was colored, wither with an organic dye or it was blasted with Cobalt-60 radiation. When your significant other says the pearls make you glow, now you know why.
These pearls are sometimes called Mikimoto pearls... but that's a brand name.

Biwa Pearls
Japan's largest lake is Lake Biwa, a freshwater lake in Shiga-ken (Shiga Prefecture)... and I only know that because of the major crush I had (?) on Kristine South who lived in that area some 500 kilometers west of me. The lake was so named because it supposedly was in the shape of the Japanese musical instrument, the biwa.
The lake was once a large producer of Biwi freshwater pearls... amongst the earliest of places where pearls where first cultured... only nowadays, man-made  pollution has made the abundance of these pearls fairly uncommon.
Still, we are talking about a freshwater pearl, right... so sometimes more than one pearl can be found in a mussel.
Lake Biwa's pearl industry began in 1914, and the term 'biwa pearl" was initially used to describe was any freshwater pearl.
Biwa Pearl farmers cut the shroud of a living mussel instead of introducing an external body into the mussel, causing it to produce nacre, which eventually leads to the formation of a pearl.
Production reached about 600 tons of Biwa pearls in 1971 but, as mentioned, thanks to pollution, Biwa Pearl production has virtually ceased.
But it's not just pollution, it was over-harvesting that has led to this Biwa mussel becoming almost extinct.
Fear not... though not the same, in other Japanese lakes, pearl farmers are breeding the Biwa mussel with a similar species from China.
Biwa pearls are often called "stick" pearls because of their shape, and are often flat and narrow.
They come in various colors, notably white, pink, silver-grey and cream. Because these pearls are un-nucleated, they seem to have a higher lustre and sheen.

Kasumi Pearls
Kasumi pearls are considered to be large, rare pearl produced in Japan's freshwater Lake Kasumi-ga-Ura.
This lake area used to be a big place for freshwater pearl production from the 1860s on--second to Lake Biwa (see Biwa Pearls above) in number of cultivators and production. But, pollution hit this lake, too during the 1980s... and for about 10 years, no pearl harvesting occurred, only returning in the early 1990s.
Where once there were hundreds of pearl "operators", there now only three.
Lake Kasumi is located north of Tokyo and the Kasumi pearl is cultivated via a hybrid mussel mixing Hyriopsis schlegelii and Hyriopsis cumingii. These pearls are a large baroque style of 9-13mm. If you look at the photo above, you can see why it is referred to as an 'oil slick' pearl color... but you can see more of one color than an other hence, colors variations of purple, pink, white and gold.
As you can see, owning a set of these pearls isn't about owning a strand of identical beads - no... this is about dazzling individuality. I, personally, have a thing for this type of look - like with the Abalone pearls.
With just three people making up the Kasumi pearl industry, you can bet your sweet bippy, that these pearls are considered rare.

Kasumiga Pearls
Kasumiga pearls are considered to be a rare pearl variant... because one guy (Sali Harue - surname first) works with them, and deals specifically with one dealer the BELPEARL Company), and thus we have the rarity.
Lake Kasumi (also known as Lake Kasumiga) is where these pearls are from.
From what I understand, Ayoka pearls are being used as the nucleus of the Kasimuga pearls. By nucleating pearls, the pearls end up rounder.
They are cultivated from the same mussel as the Kasumi pearl mussel... a hybrid mussel mixing Hyriopsis schlegelii and Hyriopsis cumingii.
The unique mussel that produces these naturally pink pearls, can produce pearls that range from approximately 9mm to 16+ mm in size.
In the world of western pearls, customers seem to think that rounder is better.
As you can see from the website, the pears are rounder than the Kasumi pearl counterpart, and lack that oil-spill look - usually. Colors appear to be silver, purple-grey, yellow-gold and pink, along with 'oil-slick' for lack of knowledge on my part.

Keshi Pearls
I talked about these types of pearls earlier... but a keshi (ケシ - means "poppy"), a small non-nucleated pearl formed by left-over gunk when the real pearl is grown... and is a term for any pearl grown without a nucleus.
Originally, the term "keshi pearls" referred to any pearl formed when a bead nucleus was rejected.
Because they have no nucleus, keshi pearls are composed entirely of nacre. And, because you read this far, nacre is what is known as 'mother-of-pearl'. I love that iridescent look.
As you can see from the image above, they come in various sizes, shapes and colors because they can occur in any type of mollusk.
They became popular after traders from India saw these keshi Akoya pearls and even though they were considered to be garbage/waste pearls, the traders though they could sell them to customers in India and to visiting Middle East traders. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

I don't see what the big deal is re: men wearing pearls. I might not want a necklace of the oyster puke, because I no longer wear necklaces... but as a jewelry ornament, why not.

Men wear earring now and they aren't even pirates, so what's the big deal.

I have a black star sapphire ring with five diamonds in a tasteful men's 18K gold ring. I own unset jewels such as topaz, and a star ruby... and if I was still wearing jewelry other than a watch, I think that as long as it looks chunky IE more masculine, then sure... no problems...

Since some women like to call men pigs, but for men and pearls, this is truly a case of pearls before swine.

Andrew Joseph

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to read about Pearls since it's my Birth stone.
    Like to know if anyone can help me with something My grandmother left me, 193 ct oval shape what I believe is rare Pearl of some sort.