"Hanadama Pearls – The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Hanadama Akoya"
What’s in a Name?
The term “Hanadama” was coined by the father of cultured pearls himself, Kokichi Mikimoto. He used this term to designate his finest pearls.
“Hanadama” directly translates from Japanese to “Spherical Flower” and are also often called “Flower Pearls” by those in the trade.
What Makes Hanadama Pearls So Special?
Luster, luster, luster, and orient! These two attributes, above all others, make a pearl valuable. The brighter and more iridescent a pearl is, the prettier it is. The luster and orient on Japanese Hanadama Akoya pearls is certified to be the very highest and strongest of all Akoya pearls. These attributes are analyzed and certified to meet specific levels set by the Pearl Science Laboratory of Tokyo, Japan. The PSL is the foremost authority on Hanadama pearls, and the only official Hanadama grading lab in the world.
Pearl Science: What is Luster and Orient?
Luster is the pearl attribute that quantifies the amount of, brightness of and sharpness of light being reflected from the surface or just under the surface of the pearl. Hanadama Akoya pearls should feature extremely sharp luster – light sources reflected on the surface of the pearl will be very sharp and crisp, with almost no satining or blurring around the edges. You’ll be able to see your detailed reflection smiling back at you when you examine the pearls.
Orient is the iridescent “soap bubble” effect seen only on the finest pearls. White light striking and penetrating the various nacre layers is broken into its spectral rainbow (much like the ‘fire’ in a diamond) and bounced back at the viewer.
These “attributes” are two of the three defining characteristics of Hanadama pearls. The third is nacre thickness. Neither fine luster nor orient would be possible without thickly layered, and tightly compacted crystalline nacre.
Nacre is the term used to sum up all the aspects of the crystalline platelets that make up the body of the pearl surrounding the nucleus. It is composed of microns-thin transparent aragonite platelets (themselves made on crystallized calcium carbonate or CaCo3), and densely layered with conchiolin – an organic glue of sorts - in concentric layers around the mother of pearl bead nucleus. See the diagram below for a visual example.
Hanadama Certificates – A Complete Breakdown
Below is a copy of a Hanadama Akoya Pearl Necklace certificate, as issued by the Pearl Science Laboratory of Tokyo, Japan. The most pertinent information is highlighted and explained in detail.
The tests used by the PSL to certify a strand of pearls “Hanadama” are:
Magnification – this is a surface quality inspection, ensuring that the blemish rate is “very slightly” blemished*, with less than 5% inclusions allowable per pearl, and for the strand overall. Only 1 single “deep” inclusion is allowable for an entire strand of pearls.
*A special note about surface blemishing on Hanadama pearls: Pearls may never be described as “flawless” or “blemish-free”. As organic gemstones created through a natural process, all pearls will display some type of surface inclusion or feature … even pearls that are clean to the eye will reveal inclusions under 10x magnification. Per the FTC: § 23.26 Misuse of the words "flawless," "perfect," etc. (a) It is unfair or deceptive to use the word "flawless" as a quality description of any gemstone that discloses blemishes, inclusions, or clarity faults of any sort when examined under a corrected magnifier at 10-power, with adequate illumination, by a person skilled in gemstone grading.
To learn more about common Akoya pearl inclusions, visit https://www.purepearls.com/akoya-pearls-grading.html
Inner Inspection by Optical Fiber – tests nacre depth at random intervals throughout the strand. Minimum guaranteed nacre thickness for Hanadama pearls is 0.40mm thick per side (so 0.80mm total) of the pearl.
Soft X-ray Apparatus – additional test to verify nacre depth.
Teri-value Analysis – this test is done to analyze the rate of light reflection emitting from the surface of the pearls, and to guarantee that the luster of the pearls is “very strong”.
Aurora Effect – this is a relatively new exam that utilizes white lighting from underneath the pearls to observe the true amount of iridescence or “Orient”. These colors most often will appear as strong pink and green colors to the observer.
Buyer Beware: Not All Hanadama Pearls Are Equal
Notice that the Pearl Science Laboratory issues Hanadama certificates that all feature a range of “very slight imperfections” or “very strong luster”. There is a lot that can fall within that range – and pearl markets have been flooded with just-barely-made-it certified strands and even fake certifications.
What’s a pearl buyer to do?
Price Isn’t Everything – the old adage that you get what you pay for holds true today, even in the world of online bargains. If you spot a Hanadama strand with suspiciously-low price points, it may just be a lower-quality strand falling on the low end of the certification, or it may not actually be a certified strand at all. The picture below shows one of our 8.0-8.5mm Hanadama Akoya necklaces compared to a competitor’s we purchased for a few hundred less than ours is listed for – the difference in luster, surface quality and iridescence is instantly noticeable.
PurePearls.com Hanadama vs Our Competitors
A closer look at these two strands reveals marked differences in quality. The disparity in the luster and iridescence (orient) are the two biggest factors that immediately grab the eye. But also notice the tighter, more compact crystalline arrangement which leads to a deeper surface glow, the appearance of translucency and an overall glossier finish to the pearls’ surfaces.
Keep an Eye Out for Odd Lengths – Hanadama Akoya pearls are expensive to certify, and usually come certified in matched pairs, 7.5-inch bracelets and 18-inch strands. The average cost to the vendor is a few hundred dollars per strand. So is it plausible that a “specialty boutique” seller is going to have Hanadama necklaces stocked in all half-millimeter sizes in 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24 and 36-inch lengths? If so, it’s very near certain that the pearls are not all certified.
Ensure Your Certificate is Genuine – The PSL issues laminated certificates with individual, unique serial numbers, a metallic rainbow “Pearl Quality” Aurora logo and a PSL watermark stamped in the center of the certificate. All of these elements MUST be present on the certificate. Make sure that the exact strand or pair of pearls pictured on the certificate are the pearls you now possess, and check to make sure that pearl sizes and pearl necklace count match what is pictured.
The easiest way to spot a fake “certified strand” of Hanadama pearls is by counting the pearls in the strand and comparing it to the photo on the certificate. An 18-inch strand will vary by 2-3 pearls on average, so often the fakes will have differing numbers of pearls.
Common Hanadama Akoya Pearl Sizes and Lengths
Certified Hanadama pearls come in a series of standardized necklace and bracelet lengths as well as matched pairs to create earrings. These are:
Matched Pairs for earrings – 7.0-7.5mm, 7.5-8.0mm, 8.0-8.5mm, 8.5-9.0mm, 9.0-9.5mm and rarely, 9.5-10.0mm
Bracelets – 7.5-Inches (Adult standard length) only.
Necklaces – 16-Inch Choker Necklace Length, or 18-Inch Princess Length.
Pro-Tip: A pearl necklace’s total length includes silk knotting in between each pearl, and the clasp. The proper way to measure a necklace’s true length is to stretch the necklace out end to end and begin measuring at the starting pearl through to the end of the clasp. Due to natural variations in pearl sizes throughout a necklace’s layout, an 18-inch measurement is approximate, and may be slightly shorter or longer than exactly 18-inches.
Akoya pearl sizes are measured in half-millimeter increments like 6.0-6.5mm, 7.0-7.5mm and so on. The largest size most Akoya pearls can attain is 9.5-10.0mm and they are very rare. Most Hanadama certified strands are available in sizes 7.0-7.5mm up through 9.0-9.5mm, which are the most popular and versatile sizes for women. Hanadama necklaces in the 9.5-10.0mm size are available upon special request, and are very expensive due to their rarity.
Why Don’t You Have Single Hanadama Pearls?
As mentioned earlier in this article, breaking a matched pair of Hanadama certified pearls invalidates certificates. Conversely, specially requesting certified singles would add so much to the overhead that a single Hanadama pearl pendant would be unattainable for many, so that’s the reason why you won’t find single Hanadama pearls for pendants and rings on pearl jewelry sites online.
Our best recommendation would be to purchase a matched pair and have the pearls set on your choice of mountings, or request AAA Quality pearls that get as close as possible to the Hanadama grade in terms of luster, iridescence and overall beauty.
Hanadama Akoya vs AAA Quality Akoya Pearls
What’s the better value?
There are pros and cons to both selections, but the primary difference between the AAA grade Akoya necklace and the Hanadama strand is going to be one of luster and orient.
Remember – Hanadama pearls are certified in an exact necklace length (usually 18-inches), so to break a strand or lengthen it invalidates their certification. AAA Quality Akoya strands can be made into any length or configuration (double or triple strands and so on), so in terms of flexibility in creating a unique piece of pearl jewelry, then the AAA Quality Akoya pearls are the way to go.
If you’re purely in the market for a Mikimoto AAA grade single-strand type of pearl necklace, then there is no better choice than a Hanadama certified strand.
As the photos above illustrate, both our AAA Quality Akoya and our Hanadama Collection Akoya pearls are beautiful. But, the Hanadama Akoya pearl is clearly superior in terms of luster and iridescence, and often boasts a depth and glow to their surfaces that is only possible due to their thicker nacre layers and fine crystalline structure.
About the Author
|I’ve been with Pure Pearls for well over 10 years and am incredibly passionate about what I do! My 15 year career in the jewelry industry spans working in the precious colored gemstone wholesale sector, as well as stints in diamond bridal jewelry manufacturing division. I earned my GIA Pearls certificate in 2004.
I’ve written extensively about pearls for many online trade publications including Jewellery Net Asia, the CPAA (Cultured Pearl Association of America), and of course, Pearl-Guide.com on all things pearl-related.
Feel free to email me with any questions or issues – I am always happy to help!