July 07, 2023

Pure Pearls Weekly Newsletter: Akoya vs. Freshwater Pearls - The Age-Old Question


Pure Pearls Weekly Newsletter


"Life is made up of a few moments all strung together like pearls. Each moment is a pearl, and it is up to us to pick the ones with the highest luster." – Joyce Hilfer

See What's Inspiring Pure Pearls This Week

Pure Inspiration: Japanese Akoya, White South Sea Pearl and Diamond 'Regency' Choker, Jewelry by Yoko London

Japanese Akoya, White South Sea Pearl and Diamond 'Regency' Choker

Pure says: Regal and Refined

Jewelry by Yoko London 


Pearl Science, News and FAQs - Your Questions, Answered!




Akoya vs. Freshwater Pearls


One of the most important and frequent questions we get from potential pearl buyers is: "Should I get Akoya pearls, or go for the Freshwater?"

There are a number of differences between these two important pearl types, which I'll quickly outline below so you can confidently make an informed decision when buying your next pearl necklace or pair of pearl earrings!


Why Buy Akoya Pearls


For cultured Akoya pearls from Japan, there are three main pearl grades to choose from:

Certified Hanadama Akoya


AAA Quality Akoya Pearls


AA+ Quality Akoya Pearls

Let's go over each of these three grades to get you familiar with each and see which works best for you!

Japanese Hanadama Akoya Pearls

Certified Hanadama Akoya Pearls

The Hanadama title is not just a collection, it is a real grade - Hanadama pearls represent very finest grade assigned to Akoya pearls. The term "Hanadama" loosely translates from Japanese to mean "Flower Pearl" or "Lotus Pearl", and are famous for their intensely bright, sharp luster and gorgeous light to deep pink coloration. Hanadama pearls are equivalent to Mikimoto's famed AAA Grade, and in fact it was Mr. Mikimoto himself that coined the term!

The pearls are hand-selected at harvest for being of particularly high quality in terms of Luster, Depth and clean Surface Quality; they are then sent to the Pearl Science Laboratory of Tokyo, Japan for certification. In order to qualify for a PSL Hanadama Certificate, the pearls must meet the minimum qualification standards of nacre thickness, teri-value or brightness of luster, shape, color and surface quality.

Hanadama pearls have a minimum nacre thickness of 0.4mm which is considered very thick for Akoya pearls, and the surface quality allowances require a very clean surface with only up to .05% blemishing on the surface of the pearl. Each Hanadama pearl necklace has it's own individually numbered certificate from the PSL detailing all the factors described above.

A few things to note though:
Hanadama pearls are originally set aside from the AAA Quality lots during sorting - that means they're chosen from the AAA to become certified Hanadama pearls. This means that technically, the pearls are AAA Quality, but at the very tippy-top of those tolerances and benchmarks
Not all AAA Quality pearls will make the cut to be certified as Hanadama, and some AAA Quality pearls that could easily be certified as Hanadama are never sent for certification ... when it comes to precious gems, there's always a best, a best of the best, and collector's quality tiers (which are STUNNING, but have the intensely high price tags to go with them!). That's why universal grading standards have never been officially put into place all over the world across the 4 main pearl types - it's just incredibly difficult to do (and makes my head spin just thinking about it!).
But in terms of being able to purchase an incredibly fine strand of Japanese Akoya pearls that are Mikimoto-quality for a fraction of the price, and having an independent gemological organization certifying the gems as the "best of the best", then I'd say that the Hanadama Collection are it!

AAA Quality versus AA+ Quality Akoya Pearls

AAA vs. AA+ Quality Akoya Pearls

AAA Quality Akoya pearls are going to have sharper, brighter luster and less blemishing- between 1-5% of the pearls' surfaces, as well as on the strand overall will feature some type of inclusion- usually pin-pricks or wrinkles in the nacre, or darker areas visible just below the surface where organic material has accumulated unevenly. You will be able to recognize distinct reflections in the surface of the pearls, and reflected light sources should be extremely sharp, crisp and delineated with very little blurring around the edges.
AA+ Quality Akoya pearls will have luster that is nearly comparable just not quite as crisp and the blemish rate will be between 5-10%; for luster, you'll still be able to see your own face smiling back at you, but there will be slight blurring or satining of reflected light in the surface.
Both qualities of pearls will be perfectly round in shape, and the matching will be excellent with almost no variation in color, luster and size.
The above-mentioned inclusions can really only be observed upon close inspection i.e. rolling sections of the strand between thumb and forefinger, at a distance of 6-inches or less. 

Why Buy Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are unique in that they are the ONLY tissue-nucleated cultured pearl in the world. Why is this an awesome, wonderful thing? Here's just a few reasons off the top of our heads:

  • It creates a pearl composed of solid crystalline nacre; the closest you can get to the way a natural pearl is formed in the wild. Because of this we also the see the widest types of pearl shapes in Freshwater pearls.
  • It creates an incredibly durable pearl that will withstand the tests of time, wear and tiny hands.
  • Rather than a glossy shine, a Freshwater pearl possesses an elegant glow that slowly reveals itself under the steady gaze of the wearer ... Silky, touchable and radiant, fine AAA and AAAA Quality Freshwater pearls can look just as beautiful as any saltwater pearl.
  • Their natural shades of Pink/Peach, Lavender and White are untreated by any chemical or dye process, and will never discolor or fade if cared for properly. New, intense colors and metallic overtones are becoming available, making cultured Freshwater pearls one of the most colorful pearl types on the market today!


Which Freshwater Pearl Quality To Buy 

AAAA Elite Collection vs. AAA Quality and AA+ Quality Freshwater Pearls 

Our AAAA (Elite Collection) Quality Freshwater pearls will have luster that is nearly comparable to that of the saltwater Japanese Akoya, just not quite as crisp. Blemish rate will be less than 3% and the pearls' shapes will be nearly perfect round upon close inspection (less than 3-6 inches). They are solid-nacre pearls that are set aside immediately after harvest as being the best of the best, and are typically reserved for use only in earrings, pendants and rings. We pay a bit of a premium to have pearls matched and drilled into hanks for full-strand Necklaces, Bracelets and Jewelry Sets. 
Our AAA Quality pearls are going to have sharper, brighter luster and less blemishing- between 1-5% of the pearls' surfaces on the strand overall will feature some type of inclusion (usually chalky spots or thin ridges where organic material has accumulated) and most importantly, the shape will be round to the eye from a distance of 12-inches approximately, and up close inspection (less than 6-inches) will reveal nearly true-round pearl shapes, with a few slightly off-round pearls detectable.  
AA+ Quality Freshwater pearls will have luster that is nearly comparable just not quite as crisp and the blemish rate will be between 5-10%; the shape will be mostly eye-round from a distance of 1-3 feet, and upon close inspection (less than 6 inches), you’ll begin to notice a slight egg or oval-ish shape to some of the pearls, however this is not the case for all the pearls in the strand. 
So for me and the vast majority of my customers, with Freshwater pearls the upgrade is DEFINITELY worth it, as it gets the pearls much closer to that "fine pearl jewelry" look. 

For a really deep dive into the Akoya vs. Freshwater Pearls debate, I highly recommend reading my article here: https://www.purepearls.com/pages/freshwater-vs-akoyas

Until next time! 





The PurePearls.com Wishlist: Weekly Pearl Jewelry Spotlight 



Pure Pearls Weekly Product Spotlight: Japanese Akoya Pearl & Chain Link Necklace 



A recent addition to Pure Pearls, this stylish chain and pearl design is sure to turn heads. This beautiful Akoya pearl necklace consists of beautiful and lustrous pearls in AAA Quality, and is mounted on 14K Rose Gold.

Known as the 'icon' of cultured pearls, Akoya pearls have graced the necks, ears, fingers, and wrists of women for decades. Pure Pearls imports their Akoya pearls from the legendary pearl farms of Japan, grown in the Pinctada fucata oyster.

All of our Akoya pearl necklaces are made on site, and our extensive experience and careful attention to detail allows us to create truly beautiful pearl jewelry.

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