Japanese Akoya Pearl PricingUnlocking the mysteries behind Japanese Pearl prices
Pearl pricing in general is quite an enigma for those who are not professionals. Judging by the questions we receive from our customers, most people are at a loss when trying to understand how pearls in general are priced, specifically Japanese Akoyas.
In this post we will try to give some tools to better assess the value of these pearls.
Before we continue, if you haven’t read the basics about understanding pearls yet, you might want to start here. It will give us a common language for discussion.
Understanding Japanese Akoyas
Now that you know the basics about pearls, let’s talk about understanding Akoyas. As you probably know by now, these pearls come from a smaller oyster (Pinctada Fucata Martensii) which limit the pearl size to anywhere between 2-10mm.
Sorting and classifying Akoyas is always done in 0.5 mm steps as follows:
You catch the drift by now right? Same with strands (necklaces), each strand graduates in 0.5mm steps. For instance, a 7×7.5mm strand means that the pearls at the end are close to 7mm while the ones in the center are close to 7.5mm. This is a very small graduation almost invisible to the untrained eye – the effect is of a non-graduated necklace also known as a “straight” strand.
Each of these steps incur a step up in price as well. Interestingly, in the past, graduated Akoya strands were more popular. Nowadays they are harder to find, yet still available by order.
Recently, Akoya farmers prefer producing larger sizes (7mm and above), mainly due to smaller labor costs and bigger revenues. Try imagine sorting 2mm pearls, not easy right? Now that you imagined that, can you imagine drilling them? It is a very tedious job. This trend drove the prices of smaller pearls very high.
Mome – A weight unit used for Akoyas
This leads me to the next point. Japanese pearls are actually regarded in price per weight amongst wholesalers rather than price per piece. This weight unit is called Mome, and it translates as follows:
1 mome = 3.75 grams
1 mome = 18.75 carats
Understanding this allows us to appreciate the previous point fully. For instance, the price per Mome for 4-4.5mm Akoya Pearls is higher nowadays than the price per Mome of 7-7.5mm Akoyas, assuming comparable quality (luster, spot level, etc.). However, this doesn’t mean that one pearl sized 4-4.5 will cost more than one pearl of 7-7.5mm.
The following table shows approximately how many pearls per size are in 1 Mome for each size:
Knowing the size and weight classification makes it easier to assess the other aspects of the pearl (remember the 5 S’s?) such as Shine, Smoothness, Shades and Shape.
Akoya Pear Size (in MM)
Approximate pieces per 1 Mome (round, half drilled loose pearls)
2.5 – 3
3 – 3.5
3.5 – 4
4 – 4.5
4.5 – 5
5 – 5.5
5.5 – 6
6 – 6.5
7 – 7.5
7.5 – 8
8 – 8.5
8.5 – 9
9 – 9.5
9.5 – 10
Tools of the pearl wholesale trade which help us sort pearls according to size and quality.
The Akoya Oyster.
Estimating Pearl Prices
Estimating the price is all about factoring the 5 S’s into a type of equation. We compiled a list of the S’s sorted by their impact on price.
- Size – When comparing prices, the size defines the parameters of the comparison. In other words, we shouldn’t compare 6mm Akoya pearls to 7mm as they are a different category all together.
- Shape – In Japanese Akoya there are three main shape categories which also define the parameters of comparison: Round, Off Round, and Baroque.
- Shine (Luster).
- Skin (blemish level).
When studying pricing – you must look at as many pearls as possible which share the same base parameters (such as size and shape) and then try to understand the reason behind the different pricing. The more pearls you compare, the better understanding you will gain. It is hard to do online, as you need to “feel & touch” the pearls. Seeing them with your own eyes is important.
Ask yourself: What reasons would this strand be priced higher than the other? If you don’t have an obvious answer, it is the best opportunity to learn.
When people stop by our showroom in Tokyo, we insist on explaining the differences which contributes to our customer’s understanding as well as the ability to pick out the perfect necklace.
We hope that this post was informative. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our pearl experts.