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Vietnamese Akoya
Gem Profile

Anyone watching the world pearling situation would think Mother Nature has put the Akoya pearl on her hit list. Japan is diminishing steadily as a producer. And China was ripped by two tropical storms between August 9 and 12 this year that destroyed 65 percent of its Akoya crop after days and nights of rain dropped the salinity levels of bays so low tens of millions of nucleated oysters died. Salt-free diets may be good for humans but they are as bad as bad can be for saltwater oysters.

As a result of this disaster, Akoya prices could climb by as much as 40 percent next spring and summer when pearl shortfalls start to be felt. Don’t worry. The price hikes are supposed to be temporary. As part of an industry rescue operation, China has already given farmers generous grants to buy new oysters and bead nuclei. But China is such an environmental basket case that both its saltwater and freshwater pearl industries face plenty of future stormy weather.

So what’s an Akoya lover to do? Well, if you’re a fan of Chinese Akoya pearls, our advice is biblical: Love thy neighbor. We’re talking about Vietnam to China’s south where for the past decade or so several promising pearl farms have been launched and are now prospering.

While it’s too soon to predict, or even pray, that this southeast Asian country will become a much-needed backup to China and Japan, Vietnam is definitely on better terms with Mother Nature as of late than either of those other pearl superpowers. What’s more, farmers there seem intent on growing pearls that are throwbacks—in terms of nacre thickness—to those from the last years of Japan’s golden age in the 1950s and 1960s. “Cut one of our pearls in half and see for yourself,” says Anil Maloo of Baggins in Los Angeles, which is now the main American conduit for Vietnamese Akoya pearls.

Speaking of throwback pearls, Vietnamese farms also produce what Maloo calls “baby Akoyas” in sizes as small as 2mm, which helps to fill the dearth of and demand for tiny pearls that Japan has not been able to address in years.

How did Maloo get an inside track on Vietnamese pearls? His family owns a pearl farm (on which he worked ten years ago) and gladly provides Baggins with enough pearls to have established a west coast beachhead for this newcomer pearl producer.

The rest are sold to and through Japan. Unlike Chinese Akoya pearls, however, which are shipped to Japan for processing and sold with a “Made in Japan” label, these pearls are sold as Vietnamese in origin. That should tell you something about the esteem in which these pearls are held. They deserve to be. Here’s why.

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Vietnamese Akoya strand courtesy of Baggins
Vietnamese Akoya strand courtesy of Baggins