The most familiar type of pearl sold in handmade jewellery come from Japan and China and were the first cultivated pearls to appear on the market in 1920. The mollusc used is the Pinctada Martensi, more commonly known as the Akoya. Their breeding grounds are spread along the southern coast of Japan and are generally sold to cultivation farms after two to three years of life when they have reached approximately 7cm in diameter.
Implantation occurs during the hottest months from April to August to guarantee the weak molluscs the best climactic conditions and chances of survival. This procedure is handled almost exclusively by women known as “the daughters of the sea“. Up until the 1970’s they dived considerable depths without aid of air tanks to pick the molluscs from the bottom of the sea wearing only their traditional white aprons. In Japan this tiring and dangerous job has now been replaced by the breeding of the molluscs in scientific laboratories. Depending on the desired pearl shape and quantity, one to four nuclei are inserted in the mollusc.
Akoya pearls generally have a diameter between 2 – 10mm with a few exceptions reaching up to 11mm. They are known for their shimmering beauty and warm colours which range from rose, cream and gold to silvery white and blue/gray. These beautiful, radiant colours make them highly desirable to jewellery designers who focus on their various shades of pink, green, light blue and many shapes. It is the naturally grey Akoya pearls that are the most rare.