The Japanese have been the undisputed champions of cultured pearl production for the last 100 years. This art has been handed down and closely guarded from generation to generation, ensuring the survival of the industry. The Japanese today continue to be a large force in the international pearling industry, but there are areas where they are being overtaken by their competition.
Chinese Pearls Didn’t Have The Quality
When the Chinese began culturing akoya pearls 40 years ago, they had very limited success. It was not until the 1990’s that any commercial quality akoya pearls were being produced in China. These akoya pearls, however, were frowned upon and dismissed by consumers and experts alike around the world, as the quality of Japanese pearls was far superior.
Chinese Pearls Have Caught Up In Quality
Today, this story has changed dramatically. The Chinese have finally started putting emphasis on quality over quantity, and are taking the care and time to culture their pearls for as long as their Japanese counterparts do. Many Chinese factories have also stopped using harsh treatments to rush the harvested pearls to market. These steps have lead to an amazing difference in pearl quality. The quality of akoya pearls coming out of China has become so high, that the high-end of a Chinese akoya harvest is often equivalent to that of a Japanese harvest.
Chinese Have Mastered Small Pearls, Japanese Still Rule On The Large One
To date, the Chinese have had limited success culturing large akoya pearls, and this has given the Japanese market a niche on which it heavily capitalizes. The Chinese have become expertly adept at culturing small akoya pearls; from as small as 4 mm and as large as 8 mm, but have not yet mastered the larger pearl sizes of 8.5 mm and up. Most akoya pearls marketed today that are smaller than 8mm, are now overwhelmingly Chinese.
How Can You Distinguish Between Japanese and Chinese Pearls?
How then, one might ask, can a consumer determine whether a pearl necklace of smaller akoya pearls, in the 6-7 mm range, are Japanese or Chinese akoya pearls? The answer may very well surprise most; it is nearly impossibly to determine the actual origin of the pearls in a specific necklace of this size. A little-known secret of the Japanese pearling industry is that the industry is the largest importer of Chinese cultured akoya pearls today. They purchase these pearls loose, or on temporary hanks, import them to Japan, process them with pearl treatments in Japan, and sell them as Japanese pearls. Although this may seem dishonest to many, as the end result is a much higher price for an identical product, it is similar to many other manufacturing operations. How often, when a consumer now buys a product that is labeled ‘Made in the USA’, does it really mean that the product was merely only assembled in the USA?