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Biwa

pearlinterest

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Dec 8, 2015
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6
What is the ruling regarding the use of the term "Biwa"? Can it only be used for pearls that originated from Lake Biwa? It seems that many vendors are using the term for pearls that are coming from mollusks that were the same mollusks that used to be used in Lake Biwa? My gut feeling is this is not okay, but perhaps the industry is accepting it? Thank you for any insight!
 

Caitlin

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Dec 11, 2004
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Hi. Coincidentally, I was researching Lakes Biwa and Kasumiguara yesterday.

You are absolutely right, about about the confusion of what Lake Biwa pearls are. According to Elisabeth Strack pp405-407.. Beginning in the 70's Japan bought all of China's earliest production of rice crispies for years and sold them with the pearls from lake Biwa.
There is no way to tell what is Chinese, most of the time. It is a useless task to think anything else ever happened and try to tell the difference.

So. in my opinion, any pearls called Biwa are from the same mussel, but unknown which country produced it- 99.99% sure it is China, because there is very little production at lake Biwa at the moment. The pearls so designated are usually one cut above the rice crispies. Even though they are technically rice crispies, Biwas are the bigger and smoother rice crispies.

Interesting factoid:
The same is true of akoya pearls. Japan claims them all, but China has been supplying Japan with top quality akoyas since the 1950''s. Akoyas were the first cultured pearl perfected by the Chinese, right after the Revolution. The Chinese did not start marketing their own akoyas until 1992, so virtually no one knew.
 

pearlinterest

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Dec 8, 2015
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Thank you Caitlin! I guess I'm asking is it ethical to call a pearl that did not come from Lake Biwa a "Biwa Pearl". The term Ceylon for sapphires is only supposed to be for sapphires that came from that region. However many in the industry deceptively call sapphires of "ceylon" color "ceylon Sapphires". Isn't this the same issue? If it is not from Biwa, it is not a Biwa?
 

Caitlin

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I am having trouble posting this, but I think you are right in principle, it is just that Japan obscured the issue by selling tons of Chinese pearls as biwas. So now, it is a commercial term for a bead store quality pearl and the pearl mongers know how to market. They like the term Biwa.
 

Pearl Dreams

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Sep 24, 2007
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8,941
Jeremy posted this a few months ago:
[h=1]Freshadama Pearls or Saltwater Pearls Dirrect from China[/h]https://www.pearl-guide.com/forum/showthread.php?t=10064&p=142884&viewfull=1#post142884

Thanks for all the notes!

We are still in Hong Kong finishing up the show, but I saw this thread and wanted to point something out really quickly. There are no 9 mm saltwater pearls in China unless they've been imported from Japan. They may be sold as saltwater here, but they are freshwater.

China has only had very limited saltwater production for the past few years, and they have never produced (even in their heyday) saltwater pearls in the 9+ mm range. My friends who used to grow akoya, and still process a lot of akoya, now buy most of what they sell from Japan.

Your friend might do well with freshwaters here if they find the right place, but if they try for saltwater and succeed (unless they are paying Japan import pricing), they are going to be getting taken.
 

Caitlin

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Dec 11, 2004
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I am updating info. ;) My hardcover sources are 10-12 years out of date. China was a big, unknown supplier for decades. Maybe it was the weather that destroyed the industry. I remember when a lot of akoya farms in China failed in the last ten years due to storms and maybe red tides.
 

pearlinterest

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Dec 8, 2015
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more replies please!

more replies please!

Caitlyn thank you so much for your reply. I would love some more replies perhaps from vendors/suppliers. There are no more pearls from Lake Biwa. Is it acceptable to call a pearl that is not from the original Biwa Lake "a Biwa". There are lots of products out there right now being called Biwa. Vendors are saying it is because they are from the same mollusk that was once used in Lake Biwa. Too me, this is not an acceptable answer. It is like calling every pretty blue sapphire a Ceylon sapphire even if it did not come from Ceylon. I would love some input. Thank you!!!!
 

Caitlin

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Dec 11, 2004
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I checked the GIA course which being more up to date, confirms that the Chinese akoya market virtually died in the storms of 2007. Pearlinterest: There are still some Lake Biwas pearls being produced, just not as much as in the heyday. Let me state my point about the use of the name Biwa this way - Biwa pearls come out of the Biwa pearly mussel. The Chinese imported a lot of Biwa pearly mussels and exported the product back to Japan, where it was sold as Biwa pearls. So, maybe it can be based on the common name of the mussel, not the place of origin. The practice so far has been to mush everything together and use words that sell pearls. You won't find Biwa pearls where better quality pearls are sold. I have never seen it used, except on eBay or in the world of bead shops. In bead shops it means bigger, fatter and more lustrous rice crispie shaped pearls than the older plicata mollusk rice crispies. In the Chinese freshwater industry, where there is no universal grading system, or in Japan where pearls from different countries get mixed together, I don't believe the nomenclature has evolved to the state of the Ceylon ruby marketing. So don't worry, the term is just a sales ploy because many shapes of pearls come out of the Biwa pearly mussels that are never called Biwa pearls. They are called by their shapes. not place of origin.
 

lisa c

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Jun 28, 2009
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Wow. So, that means:my little pearls bought in 1980, described as "probably among the last of the Lake Biwa pearls, because of pollution and massive shell die-offs", have no provenance?

and only an old-timer like Fuji Voll, and Sarah Canizarro, who have access to really old stock - and the receipts from the old farmers - those are the only names I remember, have any good provenance. And I remember once, Terry Shepherd.

oh well, disappointing but We buy pearls mostly for beauty, right? When my then husband bought them for me, we didn't know what Lake Biwa meant anyway.
 
Last edited:

newberry

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Aug 8, 2009
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1,774
I have a Lake Biwa pearl set into a ring. Pearl bought in the mid 1970's. I also have 2 strands of the Terry Shepherd Lake Biwa pearls. Totally different looking pearls the strands rice crispyish looking tiny pearls and the ring pearl large and flat shape.
 

pattye

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Dec 26, 2005
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Proper use vs colloquial use of "biwa"

Proper use vs colloquial use of "biwa"

Information from PEARLS by Elizabeth Strack, my attempt to summarize pages 668-669, Nomenclatures:

An explanation of CIBJO, an organization with international representation and voting, which publishes and updates Books of Rules; one area of concern being with establishing nomenclature and fair trade practices pertaining to diamonds, gemstones and pearls.

Strack: "Freshwater cultured pearls which do not come from the Japanese Lake Biwa should not be named "Biwa Cultured Pearls". The American FTC Rules consider this an unfair trade practice, as cultured pearls from Lake Biwa are rarer and accordingly fetch higher prices. During the nineteen eighties, the word "Biwa" nearly became something of a synonym for cultured freshwater pearls. Dealers proceeded to speak of "Chinese Biwas" or Chinese Biwa pearls". It seems that such expressions have been heard less frequently over the last years and it can only be hoped that one day they will be out of fashion."

Strack also explains on page 407, "The global pearl trade soon spoke only of Biwa pearls, a term that has been used ever since and that is acceptable as long as it is only used colloquially and not used to deceive the consumer."

My experience has been that in general use "biwa" is most commonly used as a descriptor for a longish and/or, flattened Chinese cultured pearl.
 

pattye

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Dec 26, 2005
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I also have a couple of strands from Terry Shepherd, in a lovely lavender gray shade. I also had a long colorful pearl ring. I've not had time to reread Strack's chapter on Biwa Pearls. I feel there were plenty of certifiable pearls from Lake Biwa. I seriously doubt even 1% of vendors would be able to name (or care) what kind of mussel their pearls came from.
 

CathyKeshi

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Mar 16, 2014
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I saw a description just like Lisa C's about a week ago on ... yep, eBay ... "Rare, last of the Lake Biwa, rare, rare, rare ... etc." No, not being sold by anyone here, and not bought by me either. I did wonder though, so as always, appreciate the information shared here.
 

pearlescence

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Aug 18, 2007
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3,843
There is a small attempt to restart pearl production in lake biwa with a very few pearls being produced. I have some. Very small and unwxciting.
Biwa tends to be slapped onto any roughly stick shaped pearl.
 

JerseyPearl

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Apr 25, 2014
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Pattye, thanks for posting that reference to the FTC rules. I believe there is a current proposed rule, which is open for public comment, on the labeling of stones including pearls. I'll see if I can find a link to it. The information here has been so interesting!

ETA: Here's the link to the proposed rule making https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/do...er_notices/2015/12/jewelryguidesstatement.pdf Pages 111-124 deal with pearls.
 

lisa c

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Jun 28, 2009
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I appreciate Caitlin's statement that she really was having difficulty making the statement about Biwa! and E. Strack for being willing to put it on paper. No fun stirring up a hornet's nest.


I was going to look at my necklace to count the pearls I thought were genuine Biwa, vs the ones I've suspected were Chinese since coming to PG and getting 'schooled'. How silly would that be?! It's all about the mother shell, and the pearl sorters.

thanks for putting up the link, and citing the page!
 

pattye

Pearl Scholar
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Dec 26, 2005
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Thank you, JP for that link! I want to read the whole piece. I have recently noticed on some websites selling freshwater pearl jewelry the disclosure that the white pearls have been bleached.

Thankfully, there are international discussions ongoing regarding gem treatments, disclosures, descriptions of metals, even what should be on lab reports from highly respected institutions. Nothing is too sacred to avoid question.
 

JerseyPearl

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Apr 25, 2014
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Interestingly, the new rule addresses rubies...which very commonly are filled with red-lead glass. As a consumer, I have learned so much from reading this document, as well as the insight the comment summaries provide.

ETA: I should also note that ANYONE can provide comments to the FTC on their proposal.
 
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