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New member
I understand the level of ethics here and hold to it. I am also pragmatic.

I am afraid I sound stern, but I do not feel stern- just a bit formal. I am just to happy share what I know.

Its just that Strack said on page 420 that "japan marketed the Chinese production around the world until the start of the 1980's. The pearls were declared product of Japan." Practically speaking, that includes any older strands and stocks that are impossible to tell apart.

Since the 1980's, Japan stills buys from China and remarkets as "product of Japan". That goes for Lake Biwa and - could for Mikimoto too - when Chinese production was strong in akoyas. Japan has never distinguished Mikimoto pearls as being from Japan and China or required it.

While Strack continues to say that the term should not be used- in my opinion, that is an ideal when it comes to Biwas, because many of the pearls sold as Biwas today are still "products of Japan" because Japan still buys pearls from China to fill needed markets.

My argument is that honestly you don't know who is selling real Lake Biwas and who is selling "product of Japan Biwas" from China, because Japan has never stopped buying needed inventory from China to make up for when they have low output. I am almost positive it has happened since the beginning of Chinese production to the present. They swoop off the top product almost by default.

There may be people who get the authentic product from Biwa, but if they pack their inventory, they make a better living.

I just found this on Sarahs website
Pearl cultivating operations in Lake Biwa Japan began in the 1920’s and enjoyed a boom of production before dying out in the 1980’s due to polluted waters. The introduction of cultured Japanese fresh water pearls in unusual shapes, gave rise to the term “Biwa” which is now commonly used to describe the shape of a pearl.

I may be right to be so insistent about Lake Biwa pearls. None today and the Old stock, if any, was not distinguished from China's. The real world is messy and sometimes ethics are idealistic. Pearls have consistently since the beginning of history been associated with intrigue, mystery, pearl-monger's stories, and never the truth. Calling something a Biwa pearl from the beginning of Chinese pearls included Chinese stock.

Therefore, Biwa is strictly a sales term to impress those who do not know there is no present production at Lake Biwa.

This website stands for telling the truth, even when it is less than ethical. If Sarah is correct and I think she is totally ethical - and more up to date than Strack's most excellent book.


Active member
To be clear, I'm not knowledgeable enough on the subtle, or even not so subtle distinctions...I just posted the FTC document because they seem to address the issue of labeling with specific reference to Biwa pearls. It might be helpful for the FTC to understand the point you are making Caitlin, since they seem to be making a distinction that might not be as clear as they are assuming it is. I love this site for all of the wonderful information and expertise of minds far wiser than my own!


New member
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.

Sorry Pattye, I have been combing Strack's Lake Biwa pages for another project for several days- it's a great story.

The old stock was replenished with the Chinese output from the minute the lake died, in the 1980s. Before 1980"s it was all mixed Chinese and Japanese stock, after 1980's 100% Chinese stock. Unless you bought one of the necklaces Pearlescence was talking about.

Everybody. Please don't be mad at me for being so insistent.


New member
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.

They did not lose their provenance. They were sold from Lake Biwa companies to pad their output. It is just that now we know the pearls from China were mixed in and all sold as Biwas. After all, they were all pearls from Biwa pearly mussels.


New member
I woke up today thinking about this thread. I am very sorry, I did not just relate the brief history of Biwa pearls in my first answer. So I want to make up for that now.

Dr Masao Fujita, in a about 1924 went to Lake Biwa from his previous endeavors with Mikimoto. A fully trained technician, he nucleated the Biwa Pearly mussels with a mop bead and a strip of mantle tissue and produced the first Lake Biwa pearls . By the 1930's he was marketing these nucleated orbs in England, Germany, France, and India. In India they were sold as natural pearls.

Everything came to a halt in WWII. When Lake Biwa started up again, Fujita's mentees started using only mantle tissue to produce pearls. No more nucleated Lake Biwas after WWII.

Meanwhile in China they began cultivating Biwa mussels in the 1960's. The Japanese bought the entire Chinese output, from the 1960's to the 70's, when China started marketing them. All new Biwas are from China since the 1980s.

This is now an ethical mess and people in this thread have pointed that out, but there is no way to tell Chinese from Japanese Biwas and never was. So, to follow FTC regulations, ONLY nucleated Biwas from before WWII are truly Biwa pearls with no mixed provenance.

Pattye, check p 420, that is where Strack tells us about the Chinese production of Biwa pearls and how Japan bought them all until 1970's, when China started marketing on its own. Since then they have only bought some of the Chinese production, and resold them as products of Japan.

I am going to see Elisabeth at the Gem Show and I intend to ask her more about this and how it can be (or is being) squared with the FTC, CIBJO, whatever. I am also going to subscribe to her newsletter in the next month or so.

Next, let's take on "Basra" pearls. Now that's some controversial pearly nomenclature!:cool:


New member
Hi there, very interesting to read this thread, Caitlin thank you a lot for sharing your deep knowledge.
These Biwa pearls I bought on eBay from the USA, probably someone will recognise it.
The seller says they have been purchased in Japan, wich sounds authentic considering the 14K Gold clasp with Japanese script on it. I like them, you see the difference to the most "Biwa pearls" in beads quality.


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New member
That kind of necklace is the mainstay of the high end "biwa" pearls. That is a wonderful clasp!

I learned something else after I wrote the little history above. I picked up on a fact I overlooked previously. Apparently Dr. Masao Fujita quit Mikimoto in a huff (though his brother stayed with Mikimoto for life- and they were both pearl pioneers). And that is Miimoto never recognized the freshwater pearls industry to the day he died. He never took a cut or marketed them either. Fujita's pearl heirs had to market them just as Fujita had before WWII. So, Lake Biwa farmers/exporters bought all the Chinese pearls themselves and mixed them with their crop, themselves and marketed them separately from all other Japanese pearls.

Those days are past, but is is worth noting that Fujita and his "Pearl heirs" were not part of mainstream Japanese pearl marketing and exports.Then in 1972, China revealed they had been growing the Biwa pearls, but they started selling independently of Japan. I doubt the diamond policy ever even included the freshwater pearls.And of course it didn't matter, because no one but China is growing (significant amounts of) the Lake Biwa mussels any more and the mussel itself is now usually a cross between the Lake Biwa mussel, and the hardier Chinese species of same.Once China quit exporting to Japan, the Biwa market, which had begun its fatal decline already, no longer even had much of a crop without the Chinese pearls being added.

Back then, the standards and ethics about pearl origins were not in existence.


New member
PS. The Diamond Policy was Japan's 'trade agreement' for growing pearls outside of Japan. It dictated that the foreign farmer provide all the capital, and hire only Japanese technicians. The Japanese would hold all the technical knowledge and were not allowed to share or teach it, and all the product would be marketed through Japan. This agreement ruled for decades, though at least one pesky Australian (C Dennis George) refused to honor it and learned how to graft himself. Japanese in turn, hounded him from farm to farm as he spread his illegal knowledge across Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. George's defense was that an Australian was the REAL inventor of the whole pearl and he had only stolen stolen knowledge. This was not exactly true, but you can read his treatise on the subject here on Pearl Guide. I recently wrote a rebuttal of his paper, so read his paper with a discerning eye.


New member
Caitlin, thanks a lot for this detailed review.
You wrote previously :
"...Meanwhile in China they began cultivating Biwa mussels in the 1960's. The Japanese bought the entire Chinese output, from the 1960's to the 70's, when China started marketing them. All new Biwas are from China since the 1980s. "

If Biwas are from China since 1980s and my strang lookes like originated from the Lake Biwa, would it means that these pearls of my are from the 70s? Or is there still production on the Lake Biwa? In this case these pearls could be also junger.


New member
Your necklace was made in Japan, but there is no telling where the pearls originated.

What I meant was it was always impossible to tell real Biwas from Chinese ones; they come from the same mussel and were sold through the same channels in Japan until China started marketing on their own. The new "biwas" on the market are Chinese because they no longer have an export market in Japan.

"Biwa" is a sales term nowadays. You could probably assume they were always mostly Chinese Biwas since just a few years after WWII -and what few genuine Biwa-grown Biwas were mixed in with the Chinese impossible to sort on a visual or biological basis.

Unless you have a pre-WWII nucleated Biwa pearl with a provenance, you probably had Chinese and Japanese-grown Biwas all mixed up until the 70's-80's, then nothing but Chinese since then. But you can't tell any of them apart by age unless they are strung with a a vintage clasp. It is a useless term.

We should probably ignore the term altogether. It hardly ever did mean Biwas solely from Lake Biwa. We should describe by shape- rice shaped, rolled oats shape, etc