Anytime you see a traditional single-strand pearl necklace, it most likely is strung with Akoya cultured pearls from Japan or from China. Akoyas were the first pearls to be cultured in the early 20th century, making pearl jewelry affordable for the masses, and many women have strands of Akoya pearls in their jewelry boxes. These round, white or cream-colored pearls are the gems that come to mind when thinking of the classic pearl necklace.
Japan boasts nearly 2,000 Akoya pearl farms. The vast majority, nearly 90 percent of them, are small, family operations, or farms that only employ a few people. Much of the Akoya production is in Southern Japan, which is the largest habitat of the Akoya oyster. China also has more than 1000 Akoya pearl farms. Many of these farms are controlled or partly owned by Japanese corporations, while many are locally owned and managed.
The Akoya oyster is the smallest of the pearl-producing mollusks. Adults are only 3 to 5 inches in diameter. Because the oyster is small, so is the pearl. Typical Akoya pearls range from 2 mm to 11 mm, with 6-7mm being the most common, and 10-11mm being extremely rare.
Of all the pearl value factors, the Akoya excels at matching – in fact, most of them rank as “excellent” in the category. This is why the majority of Akoya pearls are sold as strands. The reason the pearls can be so easily matched is that most of them are round or near-round.
Akoya pearls are the second tier category of pearls in market value. While they are substantially more valuable than freshwater pearls, they are less valuable than the Tahitian or South Sea pearls. Akoya value is typically determined by size, and then by nacre. Although the luster, shine, orient, and inclusions are very important in determining the value of an Akoya pearl, these are all determined by the nacre. A quality nacre will be at least .4mm thick. A general rule of thumb is, “the thicker the nacre, the higher quality the pearl”. Akoya pearls that have a chalky look, or discolored spots in the nacre are indicative of thin nacre. These pearls have probably been harvested too soon, possibly 9 months after nucleation versus the recommended 16-24 months. The difference is so visibly apparent that a thick-nacre 7mm pearl will often have a higher market value than a thin-nacre 9mm pearl.
Akoya pearls are, by far, the most popular pearls for use in necklaces. These popular jewelry pieces become family heirlooms. They are often a “Sweet 16” present or accessorize wedding gowns. Pearl necklaces come in a variety of sizes, but the 14- to 16-inch choker and the 17- to 19-inch princess are the two most popular.
The choker is perfect with virtually every neckline, from an opened buttoned-down blouse to a business suit. This piece looks great with everything from blue jeans to evening wear. The princess necklace works well with crew necklines and turtlenecks. It’s also the perfect length to add an enhancer, a pendant that clips onto the strand. Enhancers are popular gifts for women who often wear their princess-length pearl strand.