Tag Archives: akoya

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



First glimpse of new Akoya strands -waves

Very quick post to bring you early photos of some new akoya strands. These are natural colours (no dyes or bleaching) 2.5mm to 4.5mm super-shiny akoyas arranged in waves (hence their name) along the 85cm length. Colour variations are golds, creamy white and mixed (golds, creams, blues). Contact me for privilege purchase access


gold akoya

Feast your pearl loving eyes on these…

mixed natural colours akoya

or these, the mixed colours..You can see the waves of large/small running along the strand

mostly gold akoya


single akoya strand

Single strand of creamier coloured pearls



AAA Grading system

Pearls are usually graded between A and AAA, with A being not very good to AAA which should be of the specific shape (usually used for round pearls) smooth surfaced (with only very small and near invisible flaws) and of high shine or lustre

AA+ Nearly as good as AAA but perhaps slightly off round when rolled and a few more flaws although these will still only be visible on close inspection. Look closely below- the halos are slightly oval because the pearls are off-round although the halos are still pretty regular

AA Average to good lustre, off round, blemishing to 20% of surface

A: This is the lowest jewellery-grade pearl, with a lower lustre and/or more than 25% of the surface showing defects. Probably a ’round’ pearl will be egg shaped, even from a distance

The problem with this system is, of course, that you may be faced with a smooth surfaced and metallic pearl which is off round to the point where it drops from AAA to AA+ or even AA. It will still be a beautiful pearl and one which will probably look round when worn but many buyers will be deterred by an AA grading.The lustre reflection below differs noticeably between pearls in terms of reflection and shape and the one to the left of centre has a grooved surface flaw’

A+ Low quality. Visibly off round and very variable lustre. Many flaws in the surface

(any website or other seller which talks about AAAA+++ grade pearls is talking rubbish and this should be challenged).

Tahitian pearls have a distinct and separate system, established by GIE Perles de Tahiti, and the Ministere de la Perliculture of Tahiti which grades from A (finest) to D ( poor) but to avoid confusion Pearlescence uses only the A-AAA gradings throughout the website.

We also have adopted the name ‘Essence’ for pearls which are exceptional. They have been selected for highly metallic lustre, clean surface and shape, in that order. Usually only found by selecting in person. Probably under 1% of pearls will show the mirror metallic lustre we look for

Abalone Pearls

Research and new farming for abalone pearls has started in New Zealand in the last few years..

  The abalone produces a distinctive and    tunningly iridescent blue pearl but is very hard to nucleate as its blood does not clot, so any damage will kill it.There are natural (wild) abalone pearls out there, with wildly baroque shapes and a distinctive horn shape tapering from a broad and sometimes distorted and ugly base to a sharp tip


Akoya pearls come from the akoya oyster (Pinctada Fucata Martensii), which is the smallest pearl producing oyster (6cm to 8cm). This is why akoya pearls over 10mm are very rare while the normal size is about 6mm to 7mm It is a salt water mollusc.

Little akoya pearl oyster

Most cultured sea pearls are akoya pearls which are made with a bead nucleus, so that they usually have a good round shape. Big irregularities tend to be tails while less than perfect pearls have nacre with pits or convolutions. Good akoya pearls have a sharply reflective metallic lustre. Most akoya pearls come from Japan with a small production in China.

Akoya oysters like to live in water one to five metres deep and in temperatures of between 15 to 24 degrees Celsius

Modern pearl farming began properly in 1905 when Kokichi Mikimoto produced the first round farmed pearls. The company which still bears his name continues to be a world leader in the provision of the finest akoya pearls

Akoya pearls are harvested after only 9-16 months. The main thing to be aware of is that akoya pearls which are too cheap can have only the thinnest layer of nacre. Pearls with very thin nacre may even ‘blink’ which means that when rolled the nacre blinks to show patches where there is no nacre and you can see the nucleus. Below is a very bad example – the cream colour is nacre and the white is nucleus. Even when the nacre appears solid it can be very thin: peer closely and you can just about make out the thin line of the black nacre on the akoya pearl on the left (which split in half) The nacre on the pearl on the right is so thin the pearl is a ‘blinker’ .

Very thin black nacre Nacre so thin the bead is visible in places

You can see the thin akoya nacre

in these split pearls

Recently the trend for natural colour pearls has spread to akoya pearls and where once

Blue single vietnamese akoya pearl grey blue round akoya strand

every akoya pearl would have been bleached to make it white (and then often pinked to give a pink overtone) now akoya are available in delicate natural shades of pink, grey, or gold as well as a dark grey/blue which also has strong green highlights

Most white akoya are bleached, though some natural white are available. Black akoya are dyed and can look too uniform and dense in colour, while it is also hard to find gold akoya which haven’t been dyed. Suspect strong gold tones and opt for delicate blush tones

Natural pale gold akoya pearls. Natural mixed colour akoyas

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