China began to take advantage of their huge potential and ability to culture Akoya Pearls in the late 1980s. They have a large coastline of clean ocean front which was well suited for farming, as well as the bonus of having low-wage labor.
At first they started with small Akoya pearls, measuring about 5mm. Their lack of experience and technology compared to the Japanese showed. As a result they flooded the market with a very large supply of very low quality Akoya pearls. This oversupply drove the 5mm Akoya prices down. The Chinese then began cultivating sizes up to 6.5mm.
In the years to follow however, higher quality Akoya pearl necklaces began to appear in China.
The Chinese did not develop Akoya pearls of consistent good quality until the late 1990’s. The result was different market quality levels of Akoya pearls, the Japanese quality and the Chinese quality. Due to wage pressures the Japanese began to invest in Chinese culturing as China had the water front and inexpensive labor. The Chinese pearl industry was affectively started with Japanese technology and experience. Therefore, China has now become a serious producer of quality pearl necklaces not only in Freshwater pearls but Akoya pearls as well.
Today, most Akoya Pearl Jewelry where the pearls are smaller than 8mm, likely originates from Chinese waters. Anything larger than 7.5mm will still typically come from Japan. The differences between these two pearl producing countries have mostly disappeared as they create a pearl culture together. In fact the Japanese are among the largest Akoya customers of the Chinese.
The Japanese regularly make large purchases of loose Chinese Akoya pearls. They match and string them in Japan and attach a “Made in Japan” label on them. The result being that more quality Akoya pearls are available to the consumer, at all sizes and at affordable prices.