Processing Akoya pearls is a painstaking, time-consuming process that requires specialized knowledge, a good eye for detail and quite a bit of patience.
Harvesting Akoya Pearls
In order to harvest Akoya pearls, pearl farmers must remove the delicate oysters from their watery homes and transport them to a harvesting facility. Once there, the oysters' shells must be pried open; harvesters look inside to find out whether a pearl has developed. If a pearl has not developed, the oyster is discarded. However, if one has, harvesters remove it from the shell, discard the oyster and place the pearl in a collection receptacle.
Finding the Perfect Match After the Harvest
Japanese matching requirements are very stringent when it comes to Akoya pearls. Sorters pick through thousands of pearls, dividing them by size, color and luster. The sorting process continues, further dividing the pearls based on their measurements and a number of other factors.
In order to sort Akoya pearls, the sorter must have a keen eye and an in-depth knowledge of what constitutes quality in a pearl. These highly trained sorters cannot make mistakes in classifying pearls, because doing so could set back the entire operation.
Experts estimate that fewer than 5 percent of all Akoya pearls are considered high-quality.
What Happens to Matched Pearls?
Once pearls are sorted and matched according to size, luster and quality, they're processed. Processing these delicate pearls is painstaking work, and it requires technicians to be incredibly careful. Using very small drill bits, technicians must use steady hands to create extremely small tunnels through the centers of pearls. One mistake can cause a pearl to crack, which would render it useless.
As many as 90 percent of all Akoya pearls must be lightly bleached and tinted after drilling to help pearl farmers achieve such perfect matches. These colored enhancements are intended to be permanent, and they should not change over time.