Pearls have been found in jewelry dating back to at 100 BC and beyond. India and many Middle Eastern countries have a long history with pearls. More than 500 years ago, keshi pearls were very popular among the Maharajahs of India and with the princesses of the Arabian kingdoms. When referring to keshi, I am referring to Japanese Akoya Saltwater keshi pearls. “Keshi" was initially used to refer to natural seed pearls found when harvesting the Japanese Akoya oysters. These natural pearls resembled poppy seeds, which in Japanese is called ‘keshi’ thus the name. Keshi may result from either freshwater or saltwater pearls but by the traditional definition, keshi are NOT freshwater pearls. In the marketplace, many dealers are using the term keshi and referring to Chinese freshwater pearls. Chinese freshwater pearls are not the traditional keshi and it is my opinion that they should not be called as such.

To explain what Japanese Akoya saltwater keshi pearls are, one must start by explaining what they are not: Keshi are not found in large quantities but are an extremely rare form of saltwater pearl. They are not freshwater pearls, which are harvested by the tons. On the other hand keshi are seawater pearls and are found in quantities from 1% to half of 1% of the total Japanese Akoya cultured pearl production. A report by the Japanese government in the beginning of 2009 stated that their pearl production was in the 70 ton range. We think this 70 ton figure is from the mid 1990’s and we currently estimate that it is more in the 20 to 25 ton range, which would bring the Japanese Akoya keshi production to about 400 to 600 pounds per year.

Various Japanese Akoya Keshi StrandsJapanese keshi pearls can range from 0.6 mm to 7 mm (very rare). As for the south sea and black pearl keshi can occur in much larger sizes. The smaller Japanese Akoya keshi are the original keshi pearls that gave the industry its name. In fact, keshi are precious because they are the most difficult to find of all pearls. Japanese Akoya keshi can take up to a few years to form, although less than a year for smaller sizes are typical. Keshi are formed in a controlled environment and come in many shapes, hues, luster’s, colors and sizes and can range from pure white to gray with tones of, blue, green, pink and yellow.