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The John Atencio Jewelry Glossary The John Atencio Jewelry Glossary
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Glossary: Akoya Pearls

What are Akoya Pearls: The Guide to Akoya Pearl Jewelry

A common sight on red carpets, runways and Instagram feeds, Akoya pearls are all the buzz in countless fashion circles. But what are they? And how do these lustrous natural miracles differ from other types of pearls? 

A stylish symbol of status and sophistication, pearls have long been coveted by royals, celebrities and everyday fashionistas. Among the most popular varieties, Akoya cultured pearls develop in Pinctada Fucata oysters, which thrive in the cold saltwater of the Pacific Ocean amid the secluded bays off the coast of Japan. 

The term “cultured pearl” means that a human initiated the process of pearl formation by inserting a nucleus into the mussel’s soft mantle tissue. The pearl then naturally forms around this nucleus as the oyster coats it with nacre over a period of about two years. 

The smallest of all pearl-producing oysters, the Akoya-producing Pinctada Fucata oyster is only about 3 to 5 inches in diameter. It, therefore, produces pearls that are smaller than South Sea and Tahitian pearls. But while they only reach around between 3mm to 9mm in size, Akoya pearls are renowned for their striking luster and perfectly round shapes. Akoyas also have near-flawless color consistency, making them the pearl of choice for countless women throughout the world.

These gorgeous pearls get their names from the Japanese word "Akoya-Gai," which means "Akoya shellfish." Initially mass-cultured off the coast of Japan in the 1930s, Akoyas are now primarily harvested in Japan and China, although smaller quantities are also made in other countries, including Australia and the United States. Whatever their source, the pearls' delicate symmetry and classic white shades make them a must-have for serious jewelry collections.

History and Origin

The very first pearls to be cultivated, Akoyas were born in 1893 when a Japanese man developed a process for cultivating natural pearls within the Akoya oyster. By the mid-20th Century, the pearls had become a fixture in America’s jewelry industry. By making pearl jewelry available to more women, cultured pearls revolutionized the world of fine jewelry. Before these artificially induced gems hit the market, the pearl supply was very limited and usually reserved for royalty. 

In the midst of the 1920s, Coco Chanel made strands of Japanese Akoya pearls, must-have accessories for socialites and debutantes throughout Europe. In the 1940s, U.S. soldiers came home from World War II with strands of Akoyas for their girlfriends and wives, sparking a craze for the pearls in America, too. In the 1960s, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was responsible for making pearls synonymous with sophisticated class. In the 1980s, Princess Diana increased the popularity of pearls, and celebrities today — from Oprah to Kendall Jenner — have used Akoya pearls to convey the uniquely feminine aspect of fashion and power.

What Makes Akoya Pearls So Special?

Celebrated for their perfectly matched shape and white body color, Akoyas are considered the signature elegant pearl. As nacre builds up within an oyster over the years, the pearls become perfectly round and smooth with iridescent secondary overtones ranging from rose to silver to peacock-green and blue. Akoyas have an incredibly high luster that creates a mirror-like effect that, combined with their uniform shape, makes them superior to other types of pearls in the eyes of many. 

Akoya pearls are available in a range of colors, including white, cream, pink and gold, allowing for a wider range of design options in jewelry. Their small size makes them a good choice for more delicate, understated jewelry pieces, and their impressive durability makes the pearls well-suited for everyday wear. 

Akoya vs. Freshwater Pearls

While Akoya pearls grow in saltwater oysters, freshwater pearls grow in mussels found in rivers and lakes. Smaller and rounder than most freshwater pearls, Akoyas saltwater pearls almost always have a superior luster to their freshwater counterparts. They are also available in white, cream, pink and gold, while freshwater pearls are commonly white, pink, lavender or peach. Akoya pearls are also generally considered to be more durable than freshwater varietiesg due to the thicker layers of nacre.

Overall, Akoyas are coveted for their high quality, round shape and superior luster, while freshwater pearls can vary significantly in size, shape and luster.

Why Is Akoya Pearl Expensive?

Several factors contribute to the price of an Akoya pearl jewelry piece, including the rarity of the gem, the quality of the individual pearls, and the labor required to cultivate the Akoyas. Round pearls tend to be more expensive than button-shaped pearls and misshapen baroque pearls. The jewelry piece itself is also a major contributing factor to pricing, with unique designs and higher precious metal content resulting in higher prices. 

How to Buy Akoya Pearls

Akoya pearls are usually the first pearl strand or woman's earrings received when she starts her pearl collection. When buying Akoyas, be sure to consider the following hallmarks of value.


A truly classic pearl, Akoyas are renowned for their incredibly high luster. The greater this luster, the more valuable the pearl. When shopping for a pearl jewelry piece, pay attention to how the luster looks against your skin. The exquisite glow of Akoya pearls should reflect onto your face, wrist or neckline and add a beautiful radiance.

Surface Complexion

An Akoya pearl should always have a very clean, smooth complexion. Avoid pearls that have blemishes to ensure a full reflection of light.


Akoya pearls are available in varying shades of milky white to white-pink. It’s best to select a color that looks flattering against your particular skin type. Bear in mind that color preferences are personal, and there’s no wrong choice. Pinkish-white hues are quite flattering on many women, but they don’t necessarily work for women who wear a lot of black and white attire, which tends to look better with whiter Akoya pearls.


It’s always best to select Akoya pearls in proportion to your facial features. If your face is relatively petite with a small nose, consider a smaller size of Akoya pearls, such as a graduated strand between mm to 8mm. If you have an oval-shaped face and wear your hair long, you may need bigger pearls (7mm or 9mm) to command attention.


Prized for their round to near-round shapes, Akoyas aren’t always perfectly formed. Compare strands side by side to gauge roundness and luster before you buy. 

Akoya Pearl Jewelry Types

Timeless and versatile, Akoya pearls go with anything, from breezy summer looks and elegant ensembles to your favorite t-shirt and jeans.

Strung together on a silk or nylon thread, the classic string of pearls wreaths your neckline in timeless elegance. Pearl earrings are an exquisite way to frame your face in sophistication, while pearl bracelets provide a splash of grace that blends perfectly with smart yet relaxed ensembles. Akoya pearl rings feature a single pearl or a cluster set in a metal setting. Brooches are another option, although these are not as trendy in today’s fashion climate. 

Akoya pearl jewelry is available in a wide variety of styles and designs to suit different tastes and budgets. Discover classic choices for everyday moments and special occasions in John Atencio’s collection of June birthstone gifts or pearl gift ideas.

Experience sophisticated style and effortless elegance when you shop online or visit a local John Atencio store, where we have pearl jewelry for every style and occasion.