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Akoya pearl terminology and quality

Snowdrop13

Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
2,690
I‘m in the market for a pair of top quality akoya studs but am getting a bit confused with the terminology. My understanding is that Hanadama are top quality akoyas that have been examined and certified for nacre thickness and that Tennyo are the best of these subjected to an ”Aurora” test?? Is that correct? Where does “gem grade“ fit in to this, do you know? Also, some companies (Pearl Paradise, for example) seem to have Hanadama studs that are described as top range but are not certified, whereas others (The Pearl Source, again, for example) have studs with PSL certs and “Aurora” testing. What to buy??
 

molinePDG

Shiny_Rock
Trade
Joined
Mar 28, 2020
Messages
148
The can of worms you've just opened... :)

A few short notes:

1. Most importantly, there is no standardized grading for pearls. None. Any vendor can call whatever they want A, AA, AAAAAA++++++omg

2. Hanadama is still a range. Hanadama certifies that a pearl has met a minimum quality, but it does not mean that all hanadama type pearls will be equal. There are plenty of pearls without any certificate at all that may look nicer than a hanadama certified pearl. Let's say there was some "sports car" designation, and that a car must have a top speed of at least 100mph to be a "sports car." A car that could top at 110 and one that could be 135 would both be "sports car," but one is still faster. This is a rough analogy but similar to how Hanadama works. It's a minimum.

3. Tenyo is still more widely found in Asia and hasn't caught on so much in the U.S.-- there are lots of fake tenyo certificates out there, with supposed tenyo pearls being sold for less than what true top pearls could be bought at wholesale.

4.Gem grade is a moniker generally used to be the best of the best (or, at least, full disclaimer, that's how I tend to use it). But again, each vendor or seller or supplier will have a different criteria for what they consider gem grade.

Summary: True top Akoya will be expensive no matter how you slice it especially in 8mm and larger sizes, where Akoya pearls experience a price jump due to rarity of size. The best and only way to easily know top quality pearls for yourself is to see lots of pearls. The best way to buy top quality pearls is ask for photos from a trusted vendor. You should be able to see the quality demonstrated to you, and be sure that the photos you receive will be the actual pearls you get, or that it is at least stated so if not the case.
 

yssie

Super_Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Messages
23,555
I‘m in the market for a pair of top quality akoya studs but am getting a bit confused with the terminology. My understanding is that Hanadama are top quality akoyas that have been examined and certified for nacre thickness and that Tennyo are the best of these subjected to an ”Aurora” test?? Is that correct? Where does “gem grade“ fit in to this, do you know? Also, some companies (Pearl Paradise, for example) seem to have Hanadama studs that are described as top range but are not certified, whereas others (The Pearl Source, again, for example) have studs with PSL certs and “Aurora” testing. What to buy??

Welcome to confusion, population #AllOfUs :lol:

So... My experience as an American trying to buy #OMG akoya...

The first I want awesome akoya I bought were from Pearl Paradise - Natural White Hanadama 9-9.5mm studs. @bling_dream19 now owns these! Pearl Paradise sent two pairs out and I chose the more lustrous set - they were fabulous. And I figured, hey, I got this akoya thing.

The next I want awesome akoya I bought was a Hanadama strand. It was... Nice enough? I guess? Nicer than my old AA akoya, but not nearly as lustrous as my Natural White studs. So... Did I get lucky with my studs? Was it the “natural white” but that made the difference - either the lack of pinking or the specific farm those studs were sourced from? I knew that the bestest pearls were saved for earrings, but was this much difference to be expected?

I knew Hanadama was a range. I’d heard of Ten-nyo - “the best of Hanadama”. This, then, must be the guarantee of quality that I was looking for, right?

So I bought a Ten-nyo strand. It cost significantly more than the Hanadama strand, which was reassuring.

It arrived. I was... deflated. the Ten-nyo had incredibly smooth skins and perfectly even colouring, but what I cared about most - luster - was still sub-par compared to my studs. I’d read a ton, and everything pointed to “Hanadama ranged from #Great to #OMG, Ten-nyo is a guarantee of #OMG”, but that wasn’t what I was seeing! I started this thread to ask if I was doomed to akoya mediocrity unless I bought from Mikimoto:
https://www.pricescope.com/community/threads/akoya-opinions-i-think-i-need-a-reality-check.255627/

I was prepared to go buy an AAA strand from Mikimoto if that was my only option. @molinePDG assured me that wasn’t the case. I posted some very unglamorous-but-real-world comparison photos of the “gem” strand that he sourced for me, the Ten-nyo (which has since been rehomed), and my Hanadama in this thread:
https://www.pricescope.com/communit...and-uncerted-gem-quality.256212/#post-4723582

And more explanation regarding the Ten-nyo and Hanadama specifically in this post:
One clarification to your post - The Hanadama certificate is available in Japanese, English, or, I recently learnt, a combination of both. The Ten-nyo certificate is Japanese only. Both Hanadama and Ten-nyo certificates can be ordered with Teri (Aurora) imaging and nacre thickness analysis - the first thread I linked has examples of both.

The thing that I personally had to keep reminding myself is... Buying pearls isn’t like buying diamonds in the US. In the US, if you see a supposedly top-quality 3ct D VVS2 being sold without a certificate, you smell a rat because you know that if it was actually of that quality the vendor would have sent it to GIA. Pearls... Not so much. Andrew already explained that there’s no grading standard for pearls. The implications of that, for us end consumers, are numerous and opaque.

Any retail vendor can call any pearl whatever they want. Mostly. The Pearl Science Lab in Japan owns the Hanadama and Ten-nyo designations as pearl grades, so my (strong) opinion - any vendor advertising pearls as Hanadama/Ten-nyo without a certificate, or with a certificate from some non-PSL grading authority, is using those terms unethically. I see a few Etsy vendors doing this. Another small clarification from your original post - if Pearl Paradise calls a pearl Hanadama or Madama, then there is guaranteed to be a certificate from PSL for that pearl. Pearl Paradise might have five pairs of 7-7.5mm Hanadama studs and use one listing as a catch all - if you call or chat in they’re always happy to send photos of specific pearls with certs ::)

So... No universal grading schemes. No universally-acknowledged grading authority. That makes comparisons between vendors... Challenging.

But.

The best akoya all come from Japan, and vendors are getting pearls from suppliers who are getting pearls from other suppliers - and at the back end of this chain are wholesalers who are grading and pricing pearls according to quality - size, luster, shape, blemishing, skin smoothness, colour. Some of those pearls will go to Mikimoto. Most of them will stay in Japan. A very very small handful of them will make their way to the western world.

When most retailers sell Hanadama - or Ten-nyo for that matter - they aren’t choosing pearls and having them sent to PSL. The pearls they buy with those certificates have already been sent to PSL - that happened earlier in the supply chain - those retailers are buying pre-certed pearls. And since Hanadama and Ten-nyo reflect quality minimums, it’s easy enough to game the system - GIA EX style - and demand a premium for pearls that barely scraped by. The target audience of these pre-certed-with-English-certs pearls is the Western world.

Why? Because the East Asian market really doesn’t care. They consider Hanadama to be a gimmick. Ten-nyo is a slightly more respectable gimmick - but it’s a gimmick nonetheless. The true best of the best, what I’ll call “gem” strands - those will mostly stay in Japan, going to buyers who buy with their eyes and appreciate what they’re getting. The best of the best won’t go into the bucket to pre-cert from PSL.

For us here in the US - my experience has been that that means that shopping English-certed Hanadama is (A) a guarantee of minimum quality, but also, thanks to the way the supply chain works, kind of perversely (B) basically a guarantee of not maximum quality. You could get lucky, the way I did with those first Natural White studs, which I’m confident would be considered “gem” in many circles. But odds of that, as I later discovered, are really really low.

I personally will be buying all my gem akoyas from Andrew Moline moving forward. He’s been incredibly willing to share his expertise with me and I’ve learnt so much from talking with him! And his stuff is truly “gem” - Mikimoto AAA quality without the Mikimoto pricetag. I will say that the prices are still eyewatering: You can’t get Mikimoto AAA quality at “a fraction” of Mikimoto pricing, probably even wholesale! Those best of best pearls - farmers and suppliers in Japan know what they’ve got and they know that East Asian buyers will pay for #OMG. No need to devalue them for Western buyers. You might be able to buy Mikimoto AAA quality at 30% off Mikimoto pricing, but never 30% of. Not for the true best of best. Andrew’s insta: https://instagram.com/molinepearls?igshid=1njjnwgamw4i8.

Some gotchas...

1. PSL doesn’t mark the pearls they grade in any way. Unscrupulous vendors can submit the same strand multiple times, get a handful of different reports, and sell other pearls with those reports. The vendors oft discussed here on PS and on the pearl forum - they most definitely won’t be doing this. But random eBay and Etsy sellers offering pearls with genuine certificates at way under market prices... Buyer beware.

2. American pearl. I’ll just put the whole company into its own “gotcha”. I can’t recommend avoiding them enough. They’re not unethical, just astonishing degrees of incompetent - there will be something wrong with your order, and you will hate every moment you spend dealing with customer service to resolve or get your refund. You’ll get a refund, if you want one, again - not unethical - but it’ll be aggravating.

Also - their Collection line - marketing mumbo jumbo. They don’t xray the pearls to ensure the cleaved pearl they send is representative of the strand. And no independent authority has confirmed their claim of minimum nacre thickness per strand - the strands don’t come with any independent reports (it’s hard to measure nacre thickness, it’s not like any end consumer is going to be able to verify themselves even with a sliced pearl in hand!). Most critically, though, the entire line rests on an idealogy of “thicker nacre = better”. In reality thicker nacre doesn’t guarantee higher luster or more iridescence.

Andrew sent me an awesome explanation of they why of this, and I asked permission to share. Pearls are “cultured” by extracting a tiny bit of mantle from a donor oyster, called the “graft”, and implanting this mantle - along with a nacre bead, called the “nucleus”, into a host oyster. Over the next 10-24 months (depending on type of oyster and priorities of farm) the host oyster will be left to do its oyster thing with the implant inside. The host secretes nacre onto the nucleus, and quantity and quality of nacre deposition is going to depend on temperature and other environmental conditions. Really strong temperature correlation. The nacre itself is composed of aragonite platelets (microscopic tablets that pile together) and binding agents for those aragonite platelets... When nacre is secreted slowly, in uniform layers around the pearl, the aragonite platelets are tight together and well organized and you get exceptional luster and high potential for iridescence. When nacre is secreted more quickly (in higher temperatures) it’s thicker, but platelets are less well organized, and luster is compromised.

1605468281681.jpeg

Okay, so all that said, you do need a minimum nacre thickness to ever get phenomenal luster. PSL states this minimum to be 0.4mm “on one side” (I kept seeing this phrase, “on one side”, and it confused me - one side of what? It just means from exterior of nucleus to exterior of pearl). But no academic minimum has ever been established. And beyond this minimum, which 0.4mm certainly more than encapsulates - thicker really isn’t necessarily better!!

Also, I said “high potential for iridescence” above - turns out body colour and iridescence are largely functions of donor oyster age and genetics. The host just allows certain genes to be expressed (or not), and permits - implicitly through luster - exceptional orient to actually show, if the donor has preordained the possibility. Here are a couple of papers that go into it more; I’ll hold off on stating my own takeaways publicly because I’m not wholly confident in them. I’m finding this stuff fascinating lately.
 

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Last edited:

Snowdrop13

Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
2,690
The can of worms you've just opened... :)

A few short notes:

1. Most importantly, there is no standardized grading for pearls. None. Any vendor can call whatever they want A, AA, AAAAAA++++++omg

2. Hanadama is still a range. Hanadama certifies that a pearl has met a minimum quality, but it does not mean that all hanadama type pearls will be equal. There are plenty of pearls without any certificate at all that may look nicer than a hanadama certified pearl. Let's say there was some "sports car" designation, and that a car must have a top speed of at least 100mph to be a "sports car." A car that could top at 110 and one that could be 135 would both be "sports car," but one is still faster. This is a rough analogy but similar to how Hanadama works. It's a minimum.

3. Tenyo is still more widely found in Asia and hasn't caught on so much in the U.S.-- there are lots of fake tenyo certificates out there, with supposed tenyo pearls being sold for less than what true top pearls could be bought at wholesale.

4.Gem grade is a moniker generally used to be the best of the best (or, at least, full disclaimer, that's how I tend to use it). But again, each vendor or seller or supplier will have a different criteria for what they consider gem grade.

Summary: True top Akoya will be expensive no matter how you slice it especially in 8mm and larger sizes, where Akoya pearls experience a price jump due to rarity of size. The best and only way to easily know top quality pearls for yourself is to see lots of pearls. The best way to buy top quality pearls is ask for photos from a trusted vendor. You should be able to see the quality demonstrated to you, and be sure that the photos you receive will be the actual pearls you get, or that it is at least stated so if not the case.

Can of worms indeed! I thought I knew a bit about pearls but I can see from this there’s still plenty to learn. Luckily I have small ears so will be looking for less than 8mm. It’s all very much harder when buying online, though!
 

Snowdrop13

Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
2,690
Welcome to confusion, population #AllOfUs :lol:

So... My experience as an American trying to buy #OMG akoya...

The first I want awesome akoya I bought were from Pearl Paradise - Natural White Hanadama 9-9.5mm studs. @bling_dream19 now owns these! Pearl Paradise sent two pairs out and I chose the more lustrous set - they were fabulous. And I figured, hey, I got this akoya thing.

The next I want awesome akoya I bought was a Hanadama strand. It was... Nice enough? I guess? Nicer than my old AA akoya, but not nearly as lustrous as my Natural White studs. So... Did I get lucky with my studs? Was it the “natural white” but that made the difference - either the lack of pinking or the specific farm those studs were sourced from? I knew that the bestest pearls were saved for earrings, but was this much difference to be expected?

I knew Hanadama was a range. I’d heard of Ten-nyo - “the best of Hanadama”. This, then, must be the guarantee of quality that I was looking for, right?

So I bought a Ten-nyo strand. It cost significantly more than the Hanadama strand, which was reassuring.

It arrived. I was... deflated. the Ten-nyo had incredibly smooth skins and perfectly even colouring, but what I cared about most - luster - was still sub-par compared to my studs. I’d read a ton, and everything pointed to “Hanadama ranged from #Great to #OMG, Ten-nyo is a guarantee of #OMG”, but that wasn’t what I was seeing! I started this thread to ask if I was doomed to akoya mediocrity unless I bought from Mikimoto:
https://www.pricescope.com/community/threads/akoya-opinions-i-think-i-need-a-reality-check.255627/

I was prepared to go buy an AAA strand from Mikimoto if that was my only option. @molinePDG assured me that wasn’t the case. I posted some very unglamorous-but-real-world comparison photos of the “gem” strand that he sourced for me, the Ten-nyo (which has since been rehomed), and my Hanadama in this thread:
https://www.pricescope.com/communit...and-uncerted-gem-quality.256212/#post-4723582

And more explanation regarding the Ten-nyo and Hanadama specifically in this post:
One clarification to your post - The Hanadama certificate is available in Japanese, English, or, I recently learnt, a combination of both. The Ten-nyo certificate is Japanese only. Both Hanadama and Ten-nyo certificates can be ordered with Teri (Aurora) imaging and nacre thickness analysis - the first thread I linked has examples of both.

The thing that I personally had to keep reminding myself is... Buying pearls isn’t like buying diamonds in the US. In the US, if you see a supposedly top-quality 3ct D VVS2 being sold without a certificate, you smell a rat because you know that if it was actually of that quality the vendor would have sent it to GIA. Pearls... Not so much. Andrew already explained that there’s no grading standard for pearls. The implications of that, for us end consumers, are numerous and opaque.

Any retail vendor can call any pearl whatever they want. Mostly. The Pearl Science Lab in Japan owns the Hanadama and Ten-nyo designations as pearl grades, so my (strong) opinion - any vendor advertising pearls as Hanadama/Ten-nyo without a certificate, or with a certificate from some non-PSL grading authority, is using those terms unethically. I see a few Etsy vendors doing this. Another small clarification from your original post - if Pearl Paradise calls a pearl Hanadama or Madama, then there is guaranteed to be a certificate from PSL for that pearl. Pearl Paradise might have five pairs of 7-7.5mm Hanadama studs and use one listing as a catch all - if you call or chat in they’re always happy to send photos of specific pearls with certs ::)

So... No universal grading schemes. No universally-acknowledged grading authority. That makes comparisons between vendors... Challenging.

But.

The best akoya all come from Japan, and vendors are getting pearls from suppliers who are getting pearls from other suppliers - and at the back end of this chain are wholesalers who are grading and pricing pearls according to quality - size, luster, shape, blemishing, skin smoothness, colour. Some of those pearls will go to Mikimoto. Most of them will stay in Japan. A very very small handful of them will make their way to the western world.

When most retailers sell Hanadama - or Ten-nyo for that matter - they aren’t choosing pearls and having them sent to PSL. The pearls they buy with those certificates have already been sent to PSL - that happened earlier in the supply chain - those retailers are buying pre-certed pearls. And since Hanadama and Ten-nyo reflect quality minimums, it’s easy enough to game the system - GIA EX style - and demand a premium for pearls that barely scraped by. The target audience of these pre-certed-with-English-certs pearls is the Western world.

Why? Because the East Asian market really doesn’t care. They consider Hanadama to be a gimmick. Ten-nyo is a slightly more respectable gimmick - but it’s a gimmick nonetheless. The true best of the best, what I’ll call “gem” strands - those will mostly stay in Japan, going to buyers who buy with their eyes and appreciate what they’re getting. The best of the best won’t go into the bucket to pre-cert from PSL.

For us here in the US - my experience has been that that means that shopping English-certed Hanadama is (A) a guarantee of minimum quality, but also, thanks to the way the supply chain works, kind of perversely (B) basically a guarantee of not maximum quality. You could get lucky, the way I did with those first Natural White studs, which I’m confident would be considered “gem” in many circles. But odds of that, as I later discovered, are really really low.

I personally will be buying all my gem akoyas from Andrew Moline moving forward. He’s been incredibly willing to share his expertise with me and I’ve learnt so much from talking with him! And his stuff is truly “gem” - Mikimoto AAA quality without the Mikimoto pricetag. I will say that the prices are still eyewatering: You can’t get Mikimoto AAA quality at “a fraction” of Mikimoto pricing, probably even wholesale! Those best of best pearls - farmers and suppliers in Japan know what they’ve got and they know that East Asian buyers will pay for #OMG. No need to devalue them for Western buyers. You might be able to buy Mikimoto AAA quality at 30% off Mikimoto pricing, but never 30% of. Not for the true best of best. Andrew’s insta: https://instagram.com/molinepearls?igshid=1njjnwgamw4i8.

Some gotchas...

1. PSL doesn’t mark the pearls they grade in any way. Unscrupulous vendors can submit the same strand multiple times, get a handful of different reports, and sell other pearls with those reports. The vendors oft discussed here on PS and on the pearl forum - they most definitely won’t be doing this. But random eBay and Etsy sellers offering pearls with genuine certificates at way under market prices... Buyer beware.

2. American pearl. I’ll just put the whole company into its own “gotcha”. I can’t recommend avoiding them enough. They’re not unethical, just astonishing degrees of incompetent - there will be something wrong with your order, and you will hate every moment you spend dealing with customer service to resolve or get your refund. You’ll get a refund, if you want one, again - not unethical - but it’ll be aggravating.

Also - their Collection line - marketing mumbo jumbo. They don’t xray the pearls to ensure the cleaved pearl they send is representative of the strand. And no independent authority has confirmed their claim of minimum nacre thickness per strand - the strands don’t come with any independent reports (it’s hard to measure nacre thickness, it’s not like any end consumer is going to be able to verify themselves even with a sliced pearl in hand!). Most critically, though, the entire line rests on an idealogy of “thicker nacre = better”. In reality thicker nacre doesn’t guarantee higher luster or more iridescence.

Andrew sent me an awesome explanation of they why of this, and I asked permission to share. Pearls are “cultured” by extracting a tiny bit of mantle from a donor oyster, called the “graft”, and implanting this mantle - along with a nacre bead, called the “nucleus”, into a host oyster. Over the next 10-24 months (depending on type of oyster and priorities of farm) the host oyster will be left to do its oyster thing with the implant inside. The host secretes nacre onto the nucleus, and quantity and quality of nacre deposition is going to depend on temperature and other environmental conditions. Really strong temperature correlation. The nacre itself is composed of aragonite platelets (microscopic tablets that pile together) and binding agents for those aragonite platelets... When nacre is secreted slowly, in uniform layers around the pearl, the aragonite platelets are tight together and well organized and you get exceptional luster and high potential for iridescence. When nacre is secreted more quickly (in higher temperatures) it’s thicker, but platelets are less well organized, and luster is compromised.

1605468281681.jpeg

Okay, so all that said, you do need a minimum nacre thickness to ever get phenomenal luster. PSL states this minimum to be 0.4mm “on one side” (I kept seeing this phrase, “on one side”, and it confused me - one side of what? It just means from exterior of nucleus to exterior of pearl). But no academic minimum has ever been established. And beyond this minimum, which 0.4mm certainly more than encapsulates - thicker really isn’t necessarily better!!

Also, I said “high potential for iridescence” above - turns out body colour and iridescence are largely functions of donor oyster age and genetics. The host just allows certain genes to be expressed (or not), and permits - implicitly through luster - exceptional orient to actually show, if the donor has preordained the possibility. Here are a couple of papers that go into it more; I’ll hold off on stating my own takeaways publicly because I’m not wholly confident in them. I’m finding this stuff fascinating lately.

Wow, @yssie, thank you, that’s a hugely detailed guide to buying top range pearls! I’m very grateful to you for taking the time and sharing your experience and knowledge. I somehow missed your comparison thread, which is extremely interesting.

I look forward to reading the linked papers, the whole pearl industry is really fascinating.

I‘m thinking of dipping a toe in the water with a pair of PP Hanadamas, hopefully it is true that they save the best for earrings!
 

Snowdrop13

Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
2,690
@Snowdrop13 I think you're in the UK. The owner of this site (https://www.facebook.com/Pearlescence) is UK based and also a PS member and I believe she travels to Hong Kong to personally buy the pearls for her shop. (Although who knows when any of us will be travelling again). There's also a Mikimoto shop in Glasgow's Argle Arcade.

I am, thank you for remembering! I’ve been past Mikimoto a few times but never really looked in, I must have a proper browse to see exactly what the pearls are like.
 

yssie

Super_Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Messages
23,555
:lol:
 

stracci2000

Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Jun 26, 2007
Messages
6,002
I have all these questions too.
I'm still dragging my feet about pearls studs. The pricing is crazy, and with no real standards, it seems like a crap shoot.
And also, why are pearl studs so overpriced?
Example. Vendors are selling 7-7.5 AAA studs for $150-200. And you get 2 pearls. But for 2.5x more, I can get a bracelet containing 24 pearls. And they are all supposed to be AAA. So are the earring AAAs better than the bracelet AAAs?
I want hanadamas, but the Pearl Science Laboratory seems sketchy. There is very little info about them online. I even googled the PSL on Google maps to make sure they are a real entity! I did find the building with the name listed on the marquis.
So confused.
 

molinePDG

Shiny_Rock
Trade
Joined
Mar 28, 2020
Messages
148
I have all these questions too.
I'm still dragging my feet about pearls studs. The pricing is crazy, and with no real standards, it seems like a crap shoot.
And also, why are pearl studs so overpriced?
Example. Vendors are selling 7-7.5 AAA studs for $150-200. And you get 2 pearls. But for 2.5x more, I can get a bracelet containing 24 pearls. And they are all supposed to be AAA. So are the earring AAAs better than the bracelet AAAs?
I want hanadamas, but the Pearl Science Laboratory seems sketchy. There is very little info about them online. I even googled the PSL on Google maps to make sure they are a real entity! I did find the building with the name listed on the marquis.
So confused.

I'm just on my phone, but I'll try to give a little insight.

earring pearls are more expensive on all sides -- wholesale, end consumer, etc -- in part because they have to be of a generally higher quality than something that gets drilled through both ends. Earrings have more facing surface than other pieces, and blemishes aren't hidden as easily.

Finally, stud findings have gotten very expensive. Good quality heavyweight findings aren't cheap, and they do make up quite the portion of earrings, especially in smaller 7mm type sizes.

Lastly, it's important to remember that bracelets and necklaces are typically graded as a piece in whole. That is, a bracelet as a whole will be considered AAA, but some pearls near the clasp might not be quite the same quality as in the middle.

I would say it's important to consider grades within their own pieces - and again you can always ask any vendor for comparison photos of earrings vs bracelet, etc.
 

stracci2000

Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Jun 26, 2007
Messages
6,002
I'm just on my phone, but I'll try to give a little insight.

earring pearls are more expensive on all sides -- wholesale, end consumer, etc -- in part because they have to be of a generally higher quality than something that gets drilled through both ends. Earrings have more facing surface than other pieces, and blemishes aren't hidden as easily.

Finally, stud findings have gotten very expensive. Good quality heavyweight findings aren't cheap, and they do make up quite the portion of earrings, especially in smaller 7mm type sizes.

Lastly, it's important to remember that bracelets and necklaces are typically graded as a piece in whole. That is, a bracelet as a whole will be considered AAA, but some pearls near the clasp might not be quite the same quality as in the middle.

I would say it's important to consider grades within their own pieces - and again you can always ask any vendor for comparison photos of earrings vs bracelet, etc.

Thanks for the info!
At some point I will make a decision. Thanks to you and @yssie for the pearl education. Every bit helps!
 

Snowdrop13

Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
2,690
Thanks @yssie , I will read this carefully when I get home later.
So here's a question.
The Pearl Source has Hanadamas for very reasonable prices. They come with the PSL certificate. Can I trust that they will be really great pearls? Or should I go for AAAs from POJ or PP?

PP has 15% off right now, they also have natural white and white Hanadama studs in different sizes, depending on budget, of course!
 

yssie

Super_Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Messages
23,555
Thanks @yssie , I will read this carefully when I get home later.
So here's a question.
The Pearl Source has Hanadamas for very reasonable prices. They come with the PSL certificate. Can I trust that they will be really great pearls? Or should I go for AAAs from POJ or PP?

So just my thoughts on this...

A pearl (or strand of pearls) can earn the Hanadama designation - or not. Some pearls will “pass” with flying colours - some will barely scrape by. They’re both Hanadama, yes... But the differences will be visible in-person to those who care to look. And I kinda suspect you’re someone who will care to look ::)

One quick way to eliminate the “lesser” Hanadama is with the Aurora/Teri image on the PSL. This is a simple calculation: More colourful is better. And you want both the colours and the strength of colour to look largely the same across all the pearls in the image. Here's an example of a strand that I would avoid, based on the boring Aurora image. (Okay, caveat here, this is assuming that the photo of the PSL report itself hasn't been altered in a way that washed out the aurora pic, but... Let's make that assumption for sake of argument).

1605569834135.png


So... Well, that helps eliminates "lesser". But this method really doesn't work for picking out "best" from "better". An example. I've got pearls corresponding to both of these Hanadama certificates:

IMG_1006.png

IMG_1007.png

The Aurora pics are bright and colourful in both. The colours are different in each strand, but reasonably uniform across the pearls in that strand... The double strand colours are more even across the lineup of pearls in the report. The single strand has thicker nacre. So which is better in-person?

Here are the strands. The top certificate (single strand pictured in report) is left in the photo below. The double stranded PSL, that's the one on the right. This photo is true to life in terms of luster difference. Both strands are beautiful, and much much better than "average", but... One just clearly out-lusters the other.

FD8AA841-F998-4A5E-9101-95DD026BE54E.jpg

Here's a closeup of the two Aurora images from those certificates in one frame. I've labelled them "Single" and "Double", for single strand in PSL report and double strand in PSL report.

IMG_1012.png

Both of these strands are Hanadama, because both have PSL reports indicating that they've earned the Hanadama designation.

The single strand - I purchased in-person from a larger US-based pearl vendor. I chose it out of five Hanadama strands, all of which would have been "pre-certed" (see thesis above for supply chain explanation of that). It was the most lustrous and iridescent out of the five - not a "barely passing" by any means. The double strand was from @molinePDG, purchased as gem akoya quality with no report; I had Andrew send it to PSL for me after purchase because I like paperwork. This strand would never have been "pre-certed" with English PSL Hanadama report for Western buyers. This strand also cost a lot more per pearl.

It might be tempting to think that the best-ness of the double strand is clear from the evenness of colour across the pearls in Aurora image. But - no, sadly. The double strand clearly out-lusters the Ten-nyo in my first link in my first post as well, and the Ten-nyo strand had a picture perfect bright and even colour distribution in the PSL report. And thicker nacre, as well, actually.

So actually answering your question now... My method of buying akoya these days:
Do I want #ReallyGoodAkoya or #BestAkoya?
If I want #BestAkoya, go to a vendor specializing in #BestAkoya. This, for me, is Andrew. I'm sure there are others, but I've had great experiences so I don't feel any need to try someone else. Having a PSL done after purchase is easiest whilst the strand is still in Japan, and it's cheap - only about $75 USD.
If I'm okay with #ReallyGoodAkoya, ask my vendor to preselect the most lustrous and iridescent few strands or studs, and send me photos of both pearls and reports for those selections, and I'll choose from there. I've bought from both Pearl Paradise and The Pearl Source - and most of the other commonly-recommended US-based pearl vendors - and I'm most comfortable with Pearl Paradise. I buy a lot from Pearl Paradise and honestly, I’m never not thrilled!! They have stock aplenty to choose from and their customer service is fantastic. But I've got no reason to dissuade anyone from other vendors (well, except American Pearl, I'm really not a fan of Americal Pearl).

Hope this helps!! :))
 
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GeliL

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Just to add, recently I learned about the existence of Granpearl and Supearl certificates. Those are certified by PSL to identify the top tier akoya pearls, better than Aurora Tennyo or any other types of Akoya, with Granpearl being second tier and Supearl being first tier. It is supposed to be the "gold status" of akoyas and they are all high mirror shine pearls that really stand out from the crowd!

I did some research in Japanese, and it is pretty recognized in the Japanese akoya world, with those tags coming with a pretty big premium because their standard is very high. Only 100-200 strands are recognized as of status per year.

But of course, just like diamonds, they also come with a range :) But from what I have seen it seems like the pearls certified under those tags are Mikomoto AAA tiers. My mother recently purchased a strand of those, I will post pictures when I get to see them! (She is in Asia and I am in the US.)
 

yssie

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Just to add, recently I learned about the existence of Granpearl and Supearl certificates. Those are certified by PSL to identify the top tier akoya pearls, better than Aurora Tennyo or any other types of Akoya, with Granpearl being second tier and Supearl being first tier. It is supposed to be the "gold status" of akoyas and they are all high mirror shine pearls that really stand out from the crowd!

I did some research in Japanese, and it is pretty recognized in the Japanese akoya world, with those tags coming with a pretty big premium because their standard is very high. Only 100-200 strands are recognized as of status per year.

But of course, just like diamonds, they also come with a range :) But from what I have seen it seems like the pearls certified under those tags are Mikomoto AAA tiers. My mother recently purchased a strand of those, I will post pictures when I get to see them! (She is in Asia and I am in the US.)
Being able to read Japanese would be SO helpful in this exercise!

I deleted my prior post because I made some incorrect assumptions. But looks like Granpearl and Supearl are pepca, not PSL -

Japan Pearl Export and Processing Cooperative Association:
http://japan-pearl.jp
 

GeliL

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Joined
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Messages
211
Being able to read Japanese would be SO helpful in this exercise!

I deleted my prior post because I made some incorrect assumptions. But looks like Granpearl and Supearl are pepca, not PSL -

Japan Pearl Export and Processing Cooperative Association:
http://japan-pearl.jp

Oops, I was the one that said they were PSL, I thought Pepca and PSL are doing it together! I got it mixed it when I was researching about all these certificates.
 

yssie

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Oops, I was the one that said they were PSL, I thought Pepca and PSL are doing it together! I got it mixed it when I was researching about all these certificates.
I’m trying to figure the website out and Google translate is so not up to this task :bigsmile:
 

stracci2000

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6,002
@yssie
I just ordered 7-7.5mm Hanadama studs from Pearl Source.
They are doing 20% off, and so I think I got a good deal.
They will be here Friday, and I will post photos. I hope they knock my socks off!
 

yssie

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I can do some translation if you are interested! I can get to it later tonight
YES please!!
That would be fabulous :love:
 

GeliL

Shiny_Rock
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Ok, here are some the key points in some of the key pages! Upon rereading this page I realize that I made some mistakes in my previous post, so hopefully this post will be a source of truth!

Home Page:
- PEPCA is established in 2008 to isolate the finest Akoya pearls due to the market saturation of falsely claiming Hanadamas as the "top" akoya pearls when the range is too big to give buyers an accurate impression of the quality of the pearls

- PEPCA's members and shareholders are mostly prestigious pearl production, merchants, and sellers in Japan (such as Tasaki), you can find a list of members here: http://japan-pearl.jp/company_list.html.

(This would mean that this organization has direct ties with these Japanese companies, how you interpret that is up to you :) )

About the Certificate: http://japan-pearl.jp/tokusen.html
- GranPearl is a name given to pearls of the highest quality. All selections are made by key members of PEPCA, with the intention to improve the reputation of falsely claimed Hanadamas. All certificates will include a photo of the pearl, along with a tag that is attached to the pearls themselves. Certificate will indicate the type of pearl, type of piece (whether it's a ring, a necklace, or a pearl by itself), size, length (if strands), and weight of the piece.

-This certificate is made with consumers in mind, to give a "buyer's guarantee" that the pieces are truly top quality.

- Top quality pearls are given the "GranPearl" certificate, with the exceptional pieces amongst the GranPearl bunch given the "Supearl" certificate.

- During the assessment, 4 members will be assessing the same piece and need to reach a unanimous decision on the quality of the pearl.

- This assessment applies to akoya pearls, Tahitian pearls, South Sea pearls (I thought they only did akoyas, but I guess not)

Assessment Criteria: http://japan-pearl.jp/quality.html
(This is mainly an education page about the different aspects of pearls when judging the quality, but they do talk about desirable traits they look for)

Shape: perfect rounds

Imperfection: None or minimal

Nacre: Since thickness is not an indicator of luster or quality, the quality of the nacre to produce the strongest shine is preferred

Luster: Strong, even luster, they seem to prefer a tint since that would indicate the quality of the nacre itself.

Size: Not really a criteria, but an indicator of how rare the pearl may be.

From other websites, I've seen that since 2008 they've certified about 150 - 260 pieces per year.

I think that's everything! Hope that's helpful. The strand my mother got was the only strand that had the certificate, and the vendor said they only get about 1-2 strands per year if they are lucky to snatch one at internal trade shows. When I get to look at them in person, I will make a thread about it :)
 
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yssie

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Just wanted to update this thread with some more info about PEPCA.

Screenshots from chat with Takahashi.

961AE36B-B154-44E3-BE2E-0783D588C89A.jpeg
E86A5834-0258-499B-A700-A73E164B68E2.jpeg
 
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