The Effects Of The Japan Tsunami On The Pearl Industry

March 31, 2011

Good Afternoon!

The trip to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Carlsbad, CA was a success!  There is always so much learned and new faces to meet which makes for a fun visit. 

The focus of this visit was to complete my Colored Stones Grading and Pearl Grading Labs.  These were extremely helpful and will enable me to be a better educator and appraiser for you!   Throughout the visit I became enamored with the pearl industry, particularly of how the tsunami in Japan may have effected the pearl farms in the area. 

A Little Education On Pearls:

To start, a pearl is created by a mollusk which defends itself from the irritating effects of a grain of sand, mud, or anything else that is forced in.  The animal secretes a hard, protective substance (nacre) around the grain of sand to protect itself from the invader.  In nature, a perfectly formed round pearl is very rare.  Because humans have intervened this process (pearl farming), pearls of every shape, color and size are readily available.

While there are many countries who farm pearls, Japan is known for their freshwater and saltwater (aka Akoya) pearls.  Around 1914, Japanese pearl farmers began culturing saltwater and freshwater pearls, eventually spreading their knowledge throughout the South Seas.  Since that time, there have been many cultural advances (dominated by the Japanese) with seed nucleation, harvesting, and oyster breeding.  Pearl culturing in Japan is carried out predominantly by small-scale cooperatives, with few large-scale operations.

There are a great many factors that can affect pearl farming (i.e. typhoons, cold-water/warm-water temperature, tsunamis, etc…).   The mollusk could die, ensuring the premature pearl to no longer grow.  The pearl may be salvageable depending on how far the growth process reached.  Most anytime there is a slight change with the mollusks’ environment there can be damage to the industry.  This could be devastating to the pearl supply as the demand for pearls continues to be constant. 

So Where Does This Leave Us:

This brings us back to my initial concern to how the tsunami may have effected the Japanese pearl farming industry.   There are two freshwater and three saltwater pearl farms located here that grow in bay and peninsula areas around the coast.  The Japanese are very wise to know that pearl farming is extremely delicate and needs to be grown in the most constant environment possible.  Thankfully, because the existing pearl farms rest in the bays and peninsulas mostly on the west coasts of Japan, they were not greatly effected.  This means our supply should not decrease as a result of the tsunami. 

Thank you for taking time to read our blog today.  Remember, if you have any questions for us please ask! 

Rachel Howerton-Fleming, AJP, DDG, CSC

Howerton Jewelers & Co.

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