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Akoya Pearl History
Akoya pearls are cultivated in salt water, setting them in the highest bracket of the most sought after gems!

Pearls can be formed naturally in response to the introduction of an irritating foreign body into the shell of a mollusk. Because of this, almost any shelled mollusk can technically produce a pearl, but the vast majority of pearls produced by most mollusks are without luster, very small, and not of gem quality.

Once invaded, the mollusk protects itself by encasing the sharp irritant with layers of an iridescent substance called nacre. Naturally occurring pearls of gem quality are very rare, and they used to be the only option for humans desiring to wear these delicate spheres. They were so exotic and expensive that only royalty or the elite owned them.

In the early 1900s a method was developed to help mollusks create more pearls, making them accessible to more than just kings and queens. Contrary to popular belief, the brand Mikimoto did not invent this technique! The British born Australian biologist William Saville-Kent (who also may have murdered his brother!) pioneered the method and taught it to a Japanese colleague, Dr. Tokishi Nichikawa. Dr. Nichikawa helped to found the famous Mikimoto Company, receiving the official patent of the “nucleation cultivation process.”

In this process: a trained professional inserts an implant of mantle tissue, donated by another mollusk, into the shell of another. This process is specifically called “bead nucleation.” These implants are often American seed pearls, which are very round. The mollusk recovers for a period of 60-90 days, and is then released into the warm salt water off the coast of Japan. Akoya pearls take approximately one year to grow, whereas other cultivated salt-water pearls, such as the South Sea or Tahitian types, require more time.

The pearls resulting from this method are round and very uniform - the best of the best. Only a few species of Mollusks can produce gem quality pearls, even with cultivation! Akoya pearls are created one at a time in the small Pinctada fucata martensii. As these mollusks are no bigger than 6 to 8 cm wide, the largest an Akoya pearl can grow is approximately 10-12mm. However there are rare examples of Akoya pearls as large as 14mm!

Cultivated Akoya saltwater pearls are considered the top grade for jewelry, especially in matched sets as you can see from the examples for sale at American Pearl: Akoya Pearls. Even the painter Vermeer favored pearls, as in his famous painting: Girl with a Pearl Earring. To be part of this august tradition, see the examples at: Pearl Earring

Akoyas are considered the “classic” pearl! The most beautiful feature of Akoyas is that, although they are white or cream colored, they often have overtones of rose or silver. The layers of nacre are thin and semi-transparent, which are what create the depth, shimmer, and luminosity so breathtaking in Akoya pearls.

Akoya pearls glow against the skin, highlighting and enhancing every skin tone!

About Japan & The Pearl Producing Regions

While the region recognized as modern-day Japan was populated as early as 20,000 BC, serious emigration began from other Asian regions in the period between 300 BC and 300 AD. Structured government was established in the 6th century with the Tenno as the head of state, followed by a period of 300 years of Samurai rule that began in the 12th century. By the 16th century, Japan had become a unified country under the Tokugawa Shogunate. Western explorers and missionaries visited the region early in the 16th century, but until the late 1800s, Japan closed itself off from the outside world.

In 1853, Matthew C. Perry, an American admiral, broke through Japan’s self-imposed isolation, and once again the government system began to shift. Tokyo was established as the capital, and the emperor returned to power. Feudal rule was abolished, and western influences came pouring in, both through educational systems and industrialization.

Japan turned rapidly from an isolated country into a powerful one, involving itself heavily in both World War I and II. Industrialization took hold very quickly, and Japan expanded its influence into the surrounding regions, declaring war on China in 1937. The military expansion crested during World War II, but was short-lived. After an attack on the United States’ Pearl Harbor in 1941, retaliation came in 1945 with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the end of the war following soon after. Recovery began almost immediately as the country began to rebuild itself. Occupational forces remained until 1952, enforcing a new constitution that included a stipulation that the emperor no longer be considered a deity.

Along with its rapid development, Japan has retained much of its history and self-identity. A strong sense of unity remains as a country, tied to the two largest religions, Shintoism and Buddhism. Essential ideals of Confucian philosophy, encouraging competition and collective habits, combined with western technology to make Japan a leader worldwide as a developer of technology and industry. Even some modern day corporations have their roots in former feudal lords, who established companies in the late 1800s.

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