Tag Archives: akoya pearl

Akoya Pearl Farm in Vietnam

I’m just  back from an amazing working visit to an akoya pearl farm in Vietnam.

vietnam pearl farm

general view across the sea from the farm.

I spent three days at the farm so I can now describe for you the process for growing akoya pearls. Firstly it is similar to the process for south sea pearls.

Let’s start at the beginning:

vietnam pearl farm

These are the visible manifestation of the farm – the lines of buoys marking the suspended baskets of pearls, busily feeding, excreting, making pearls

All the oysters spend their adult life out at sea. They like nice, warm (23-29degrees C) water, just the right salinity, just tidal enough to bring in lots of lovely delicious plankton and sweep away their excreta.

I am always amazed at how the boat crews manage to find their way around the farm and find exactly the oysters they seek – to me it seems a confusing and anonymous maze of black buoys



When time comes for harvest the long baskets are collected and taken ashore, where the oysters are taken out of the baskets. The oysters will have been in the open sea for between a few months for the ones with four 1.3mm nuclei (this pearl farm is thought to be the only farm in the world producing such tiny pearls) to closer to a year for what will be 7mm up round classic pearls

vietnam pearl farm

Akoya oysters in their net basket

Those which look the healthiest at first blush are selected out for special opening while most will be opened and the pearls removed, either by hand,

vietnam pearl farm

Opening the oysters

or for small pearls, in a process which (rather unromantically  but very practically) reduces the flesh to a mush and allows the pearls to fall to the bottom of a large cement mixer type

vietnam pearl farm

the ‘Cement mixer’ after the washing process – only random bits of shell and the tiny 1.5mm akoya pearls remain



The farm I visited produces pearls from 7mm down to a minute 1.5mm in a range of colours from white to gold and shades of blue and violet to purple

Some of the oysters are selected out at this stage as possible donors. These shells will be more carefully opened and the pearl inside extracted carefully. It will be scrutinised for quality and size – colour, lustre, clean surface and is it over 7mm. The oysters which have produced such pearls are used to provide donor mantle tissue for the next generation. The obvious flaw to this is that, of course, the donor tissue inside the oyster which has produced the pearl is not related (except distantly) to this specific oyster, but it is reckoned – practically – that a pearl is 80% donor mantle and 20% host. And this process looks for the best and healthiest hosts – and thus to optimise the general stock on the farm. While the donor tissue secretes the pearl it is the host which keeps the donor tissue alive.

vietnam pearl farm

Here you can see the pearl being harvested

vietnam pearl farm

1mm pieces of selected mantle tissue – the tissue which secretes nacre – being prepared for implanting

The farm has its own hatchery – more and more farms are establishing hatcheries to ensure strong and selected stock rather than rely on wild spat. New stock is bred from selected oysters, reared in carefully clean conditions. Everyone at the farm washes hands, removes shoes and washes feet and some wear masks to work in the hatchery. New-born larvae are free swimming, then at 10 days the microscopically small oysters become spats and grab onto helpful ropes to grow on.

vietnam akoya pearl farm

Baby spat lead a pampered and protected life in the hatchery

Food for baby akoya oysters is three different types of plankton

And finally, they let me not only open some oysters and harvest the pearls (I was surprised at how soft and easily cut through the shells are) but sit and assess for mantle tissue donors – awesome responsibility.

vietnam akoya pearl farm

Here’s me doing some actual oyster opening and pearl harvesting

vietnam akoya pearl farm

They even let me do some harvesting and assessing for mantle donors

Thanks to Orient Pearl for their invitation and hospitality



Blue Pearls…rare?

Blue pearls. Really rare. Right?

The answer to that is both yes..and no. Blue pearls are possible in every pearl type – akoya, South Sea, Tahitian and freshwater. But within each type they are ..yes..rare.


Until quite recently akoya pearls were white and round and that was that.  Pesky pale pastel colours were bleached and then usually a delicate pink blush was added. That is how akoya pearls had been for decades. Round and white with a hint of pink. Then around five years ago akoya growers and dealers started to notice that freshwater pearls were selling by the hank in natural colours, not dyed or treated. The first natural colour untreated akoya pearls appeared at Hong Kong. They were sort of under the counter or right at the end, sort of an apology, next to the seas of white and round and shiny. They were also very cheap compared to their white relatives.

I had avoided the white and shineys…simply other sellers could hold stocks of all the variations of white, size, grade etc and do it better than me. But these pastel colours, well, that was me and I bought several strands just to see what they were like and if my pearl loving customers would love them. They did. Within a couple of weeks they had all gone. And the same at the next show. By the time around two years ago the akoya wholesalers were well wise to demand and those untreated pastel shades strands had shot up in price

Amongst the other pastel shades were faint blues . really really faint blues. The pearl was feeling-a-bit-chilly faint blue

natural colour chinese akoya rounds

These are natural chinese akoya round pearls. there are some touches of blue/grey colour..patchy and faint

Then Vietnamese akoya pearls appeared. And boy some of them had the most beautiful and indisputably blue shades of colour

I looked for the non-round strands and the baroque single undrilleds

vietnamese akoya

Strand of roundish elliptical blue/grey Vietnamese akoya pearls

blue akoya pearl

Single blue Vietnamese baroque akoya pearl.







One of the things I noticed last March in Hong Kong was a few – a very few- freshwater blue pearls. Blue pearls have been foreshadowed by the blues in ripple pearls for a couple of years. Some ripples have displayed patches of strong blue colour but blue freshwater pearls. That is something quite quite new.

I saw only a few, and then not really strong blue, as in the blue of facebook, for example, but in terms of gentle but definite blue – here is an example

Deeper blue solid nacre freshwater blue drop shaped pearl

Deeper blue solid nacre freshwater blue drop shaped pearl

freshwater hollow blue pearl

Huge 12 by 15 hollow freshwater pale sky blue south sea like pearl

There are, of course, still dyed blue freshwater pearls around, but, in a huge evolution to the market in the last few years, and apart from greys and blacks, it is really  rare to see the sort of garish dyed colours so common before. (and if we do see them at wholesale they are probably very old and dusty stock)




Tahitian black pearls are, of course, never black. Mostly they are greens, but very very occasionally there is a blue one. Often the blue is a patch, almost just a glimpse in a peacock effect on a green pearl, or a shimmer of overtone from a certain angle, but just occasionally a really individual oyster manages a true blue pearl such as the one shown here.

blue tahitian pearl

That blue tahitian was the inspiration for this handmade chain necklace in white gold.


Blue Tahitian pearl

Blue Tahitian pearl






Blue South Sea Pearls

Blue pearls from the south seas are perhaps the pearls we all think of when we think ‘blue pearls’. They are nearly the rarest of the south sea colours (the greens which are actually blues with organic reside inside (!) are probably the very rarest) and hauntingly beautiful. They come in shades from the palest blue – almost just a blush, to a deep dusty blue, but Royal Air Force uniform blue is the usual shade.

Charles Rennie Macintosh pearl - because the markings on the top are so like his classic art nouveau rose design

This is what I call the Charles Rennie Macintosh pearl – because the markings on the top are so like his classic art nouveau rose design

Huge hollow blue south sea baroque pearl.

Huge hollow blue south sea baroque pearl.

blue south sea pearl

We had some fun with some mis-shaped Blue south sea pearls I brought back from Hong Kong last trip and made them into what we’ve called ‘pokemon’ pearls – this is a little dancing man!

round blue pearl pendant

A pendant or enhancer is a great way to get started with blue south sea pearls. (This is a more classic simple round pearl if you aren’t a poke-fan)








So, there we go. Blue pearls are possible in all pearl types. But as colours go, they are the exception rather than the rule.

More earring pairs and some fun akoya

Today I was out at the show proper for the first time. The list is almost covered so today has been bowing and picking up some of the peals I could not get in Tsim Sha Tse..especially akoya. I had some akoya requests. Mostly straightforward white earring pairs, plus a special of a ring iwth small black and white akoya with the shank like the one you’ve seen on me in the last few posts. (everyone admires that pearl by the way. It really is mirror metallic)

Who knew how hard it was to find a single 5mm black akoya pearl. They just aren’t being dyed or something. In the end I did, but I had gone up and down all the aisles of the akoya specialists looking. On my akoya trek I did find these three fun akoya nayural colours very baroque pearls. Super colours and metallic lustre. Serous haggling means a great price will be possible. Round natural colour strands have quadrupled. Presumably the farmers and dealers have twigged how popular natural colour pearls  have become and are leaving them as is rather than bleaching them all white. Plenty of natural white about too. But I’ll leave white akoya to those who have them covered already. That market is full.

akoya pearls

Very baroque natural colours akoya pearls. Lovely colours and wow lustre

Heading back to Grace for a sit down and a chat with my long term friend there, Cicie, I spotted some luscious  huge deep strong natural colour button pearls and went through their entire stock to find just these few pairs – up to 16mm and metallic. Being buttons they’ll make better earrings as they sit better and more neatly to the ear lobe than rounds when you are getting into seriously big studs.

natural colours pearls

Sumptuous HUGE natural colours button pearl pairs

I was so tempted to browse and get some more of those rich huge strands of purple, violet and lilac matched strands like my new one but resisted. But if anyone seriousy wants one please email me now = last chance for me to select one tomorrow before I head home.

It was time to head back to Kowloon but finally these two strands caught my eye on my way out so I got them. Dyed black big rounds, lovely range of colours, and metallic.The photo shows them darker than they are.

black freshwater pearls

black on the way out strands