The Luster of Akoya Pearls

Spey Insights: The Luster of Akoya Pearls

When a person thinks about pearl jewelry, he or she most commonly pictures a strand of excellently matched, perfectly spherical and lustrously white akoya pearls. That necklace of 7mm akoya pearls with just a hint of blush overtone has been the standard-bearer of an entire industry. But why have akoya pearls, given the exceptional diversity of pearl varieties, become so iconic? Why are akoya pearls so much more familiar than golden South Sea pearls or the darkly enigmatic Tahitian pearls? Almost any quality jewelry store across the globe, including yours truly at Spey, will have akoya pearls strung into classic single-strand necklaces. The popularity and appeal span generations and styles. Given that cultural permanence, it well behooves the inquisitive mind to delve into the fascinating tale of akoya pearls.

Akoya pearls were the first commercially viable round cultured pearls. Introduced into the domestic Japanese market in the early twentieth century, the popularity of the gems quickly hopped borders. Today, the consistent quality of soft, velvety luster is a hallmark of akoya pearls the world over. While other nations like China and Korea have developed thriving akoya pearl industries, Japan still pulses at the heart of the trade and maintains a large share of the market. With nearly 500 akoya pearl farms in Japan, each with an average of 200,000 mollusks in stock, the industry relies on the collective output of small, independent pearl farmers. Demand for akoya pearls helped the nation recover from the decimating effects of World War II, and encouraged Japan to invest in clean energies and environmental policies that prevent deleterious pollution and incidents of red tide.

All pearls come from mollusks and the akoya is no exception. The Pinctada mollusk genus (with several varietals or subspecies) produces the acclaimed akoya pearls. The smallest of the four major types of pearl-bearing mollusks, the akoya mollusk grows from 3 to 5 inches in diameter – compared with the 12 inches plus that South Sea and Tahitian pearl mollusks may attain. The growth period for akoya pearls ranges from 6 months to 2 years, producing pearls ranging in size from 2-11 millimeters. Most commonly, akoya pearls of 6-8 millimeters are produced within 10 to 14 months, while inside mollusks that are between 3 and 5 years old. Harvest occurs typically within the winter months, as cooler water temperatures slow nacre formation and encourage deeper, richer luster.

Where do all these pearls end up? The Spey collection, of course. The most common arrangement is the classic matched or graduated strand. The akoya also makes for perfectly delightful stud earrings and bracelets. Spey is known for artistically styling diamond and gold to accent the queen of gems and gem of queens: pearls. Akoya pearl jewelry is among our favorite. So if you are looking to add the dainty akoya pearl to your wardrobe, simply drop Spey a note. We would be delighted to create a piece just for you.