The Pearl Addict:
If You Don't Know History, You Don't Know Squat!
Taken from ISG Forum “Do You Know Your Pearls?” 2015
Several decades ago I purchased a strand of “Kasumiga” pearls. Lake Kasumigaura (Japan’s largest lake) was a center of freshwater pearl cultivation from the 1960s to 1980s, second only to Lake Biwa (near Kyoto) in number of cultivators and production. Most efforts ended due to environmental conditions during the 1980s, and for a decade there was no production. But since the early 1990s, a small handful of pearl farmers have produced very small quantities of in-body bead nucleated freshwater pearls.
The original pearls were mauve colored, absolutely different from any other pearl on the market at that time. I purchased my strand not long after the major portion of the Kasumi pearl industry died out (along with most of the mollusks). Now, when original Kasumi pearls are mentioned in the industry, it is with hushed tones, mindful of their rarity and value.
During a move in 2010, as a result of actions of well-meaning friends, my entire filing box of jewelry and gem certificates ended up MIA. Yeah. I know…. After I accepted the loss, I began attempting to get my pearls re-authenticated by various means, contacting sellers of luxury items, auction houses, searching the web for clues as to who might do this service for me. After all, you can’t mistake a Kasumiga pearl. How hard could it be?
Original Kasumiga Pearls
After exhausting all leads (even talking with Antoinette Matlins and getting her ideas as to who might re-authenticate them), I appealed to my jewelry groups on LinkedIn and found a reputable association in Switzerland that holds itself out as the “end all and be all” of pearls testing. GREAT! I shipped my pearls to them to regain official identification.
After months of waiting to hear back from the gemologists, I received my evaluation. It gave me the following astounding information:
The pearls were real (Oh, really?)
The pearls were natural color (Duh!)
The pearls were freshwater (Double Duh!)
I contacted an official of that establishment about the verdict. He said they now have criteria for Kasumiga pearls and the criteria stated Kasumiga pearls were bead-nucleated – and this strand was not.
What!?! Of course, they’re not bead nucleated. And that’s what sets them apart as authentic and original Kasumigas from the non-hybrid mollusk. It’s the new hybrids that are bead nucleated. My strand is an original and that’s why I need the authentication – to re-identify my strand as authentic, original Kasumiga. Historically, Kasumigas (like all freshwater pearls) were not bead nucleated.
I’ve been following the pearl market for decades and now it is so easy to do on the web. Let’s take Kasumiga pearls for instance. After the die-out in the 90s, a certain pearl seller, Mark Brown (purveyor of PearlfectionTM [man-made “shell” pearls], later affiliated with JTV) told of crossing the few remaining Kasumi mollusks with another type and was introducing GenusisTM Pearls, which at that time looked like wads of chewing gum. However, over the years, the GenusisTM pearls became more and more symmetrical with each harvest.
Hybrid Genusis Pearls
They are beautiful pearls, and, especially the baroque shapes, exhibiting amazing color, iridescence, and a gold sheen. The metallic gold sheen had never been seen since the Kasumiga era. I nabbed a few of the earlier ones, but later was fortunate enough to get a pair of near perfect 13mm stud earrings that matched my strand of original Kasumigas. It was rumored that the first strand of near-perfect pearls from the GenusisTM hybrid mollusks sold at Tucson that year for a million.
From what I detect, the GenusisTM era looks to be about over. There are fewer and fewer of them on the market and I wonder about the health of the cross-bred mollusk which, I understand from Mr. Brown, were inoculated over and over, each time producing finer pearls from the same mollusk. You can still pick up a GenusisTM strand or a loose pearl here and there on the internet, however fairly nice strands can run in the thousands now.
Where the Japanese go in the pearl business, the Chinese seem to very soon follow. A few years ago EdisonTM pearls entered the market. Many listed as Kasumi-like were also introduced to the market. It appears that the Chinese have the mollusks perfected now and are flooding the market with the iridescent mauve EdisonTM pearls. These seem to be the Kasumiga hybrid, GenusisTM pearl reincarnate.
New Hybrid Edison Pearls
Grab a strand or two NOW if you are going to be an appraiser – or you just want a library to refer to with your own purchases. You can get them on eBay for $20+ for a “strand of a lesser god” (my phrase for funky little pearls). Get them in hand to see the sheen of the nacre. You’ll never be in the dark about Kasumiga, GenusisTM, or EdisonTM pearls again.
It’ll be your job as a Professional Appraiser to surpass the service I received on my pearls from “experts” that do not take the time to KNOW pearls – they just go through the motions to “test” pearls and render verdict on set criteria. To truly know pearls you must know the history of pearls. If you don’t know history, you don’t know squat.
The history of original kasumiga pearls should have told them that the absence of bead nuclei was a good thing, because until recent history, freshwater pearls were not bead nucleated. The GenusisTM and EdisonTM pearls are bead nucleated freshwater pearls. It’s a new phenomenon.
You have to “know” pearls – the history. Remember, even in the Akoya family, there were at one time wild Akoya mollusks, in cultured Akoyas there are on the market: original Miki Motos still to be found, other Japanese Akoyas, and now Chinese Akoyas. They are all slightly different. Can you tell them apart? Grab some and start getting acquainted. eBay is a wonderful place to play.
To start with, look here.
Japanese Akoya pearls have a rose tone to the nacre. See it?
Whereas the Chinese Akoya pearls have a silver cast to the nacre.
However, a typical appraiser doesn’t even take into consideration the origin of the Akoya pearl he or she is working with. It is my opinion that Akoya pearls alone should be identified and evaluated in at least six categories according to the origin and type:
1. Wild Akoyas
2. Miki Moto vintage
3. New Miki Moto
4. Japanese Akoyas before the die-off
5. New crop Japanese Akoyas
6. Chinese Akoyas
You’ve seen how the value of the original Kasumiga pearls goes unrecognized by the criteria of a well-respected group in Switzerland that puts itself out as pearl experts. This stems from lack of knowledge of the history of that particular pearl. You see how the ear-marks of the new hybrids are being used without considering the age of the pearl strand. You now can see how the broad category of Akoya could (and I think, should) be broken down to finer categories, like the six above.
And there are worlds of pearls out there to separate into other categories for appropriate evaluation. If appraisers don’t take into consideration the actual value of pearls according to rarity and vintage, but blindly follow set, new criteria for “pearls” which tends to lump all freshwater pearls into one category, almost priceless strands such as my original Kasumigas will continue, not only losing their niche in history, but might be off-handedly relegated to the $400 per strand category – losing maybe forever their authentic value on the market.
The world awaits a good pearl expert.
So. Who Cares Anyway? What Does It Matter?
Taken from ISG Forum “Do You Know Your Pearls?” 2015
Question: I knew the Chinese were selling their own version of Akoya pearls, but now I have to wonder if the triple-strand I had made by a reputable New York company are truly Japanese or the Chinese pearls. Not being a pearl expert (nor a true connoisseur), I’m not even really sure what, if any, difference it makes. Can you elaborate?
Reply: Thanks for visiting my post. It’s all in the way you look at it, but, for me, it always makes a difference. But, ya see, I’m an addict, so….
It always makes a difference. The question here is “to whom”. Of course, a large percentage of the population couldn’t care less if they are wearing plastic “pop beads” or South Sea Pearls — they really can’t. Even if they knew the difference, they simply don’t care. And that’s okay.
But with proper Professional training and guidance you have the distinct possibility to become one of the elite appraisers in the world — literally! It has been my experience that no one knows anything about anything — broad statement, I know, but it typically holds true. If someone presents a strand of pearls to evaluate for whatever purpose, and the appraiser can inform them that they are akoya (salt water), they go up a notch in value from freshwater, of course. If that appraiser can ascertain the origin of the strand by the age of the pearls, the history, talking to the owner, seeing the original container or receipt, the age of the clasp, etc., and can determine it is something more than “just” akoyas (let’s say Japanese rather than Chinese), that strand should go up another notch in value.
With proper equipment and training you should be able to discern many things about what you are studying.
If the appraiser collected an akoya pearl (maybe earrings) that was sold before the big Japanese die-off in the last decade and label them as the older Japanese akoya, and then grab some other “akoyas” on eBay to see if they truly were saltwater and have that translucence an akoya has, he might have another specimen. As he builds up his on arsenal of specimens, he becomes more and more apt to be the appraiser of choice.
In the case of my Kasumiga strand that I mentioned in an earlier post, if the evaluator had the ability or the permission to use his own knowledge and determination, he would have immediately understood that, because they were NOT bead nucleated (they were of the old school where they used mantle tissue) he would have had to declare them original Kasumiga pearls. As it stands now, I have a strand of rare pearls that could cost easily in the 6-figure range that have been knocked down into the 3-figure range at best.
As a Professional Jewelry Appraiser you will be able to do better than that.
That is what difference you can make.