For Japanese Pearl Connoisseurs


Tom Stern, M.D.

Datu of Sulu and North Borneo

Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace

Stanford University

Chairman, T. Stern Natural Pearls

The rarest pearl on earth comes from Argonauta hians, of which only one pearl is known, which is priceless.  Long anticipated by collectors, this one pearl was found with its shell and certified by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) in 2008.

Photos by Yolanda Ortega Stern, Ph.D.

Photos by Yolanda Ortega Stern, Ph.D

Photos by Yolanda Ortega Stern, Ph.D

Because Japan’s deep culture emphasizes profound appreciation of the finest and rarest of things--from a perfectly composed haiku poem, to a tasteful bouquet of flowers that discloses the very essence of beauty--men and women of Japan aspire to perfection.  As leaders of a maritime nation, Japan’s aristocracy has a long history of connoisseurship of wild pearls, ocean gems prized as the most desirable of all jewels.  The search for perfection led to such prized Imperial jewelry as the multiple strand necklace of wild pearls seen in the portrait of Senchu Yugen Kannonzo painted in Japan almost a thousand years ago. Once Japan inaugurated the era of cultured pearls in the 1890s, people almost forgot that pearls can still be found in the wild, though they verge on extinction.

In addition to seeking beauty, Japan produces some of the world’s finest technicians and businessmen, who have mass-produced exquisite consumer goods in electronics, automobiles, and…famously…cultured pearls. But now, facing both a glut of freshwater pearls for the mass market and an illness killing Japanese oysters, Japan is losing market share and will not regain it. With few options to prosper, Japanese producers will increasingly emphasize jewelry design as a value-added way to ward off falling profits.

In our day, as the industry of cultured pearling declines in Japan, collecting and connoisseurship remain.  Thus I anticipate that a return to historical interest in and collecting of wild natural pearls will be the next phase for high status Japanese. Collecting requires passion for wild pearls, time to acquire such rare gems with knowledge and sensitivity, and wealth to gather and display the collection.

One can collect rarities for investment, expecting values to rise, which is the case for wild pearls.  In so doing, the collector becomes an expert in his field in order to profit,

But a connoisseur procures for another reason, a spiritual reason above economic motives.  In contemplating his pearl, he becomes one with it, momentarily feeling himself immersed in clear tropical waters, suffering from an irritant inside his shell, seeing in his mind’s eye layers of crystalline architecture encasing the irritant in an enlarging pearl, creating great beauty out of great pain. The connoisseur savors the pearl’s rarity, and knowing that only a handful of humans on earth could truly appreciate the magnificent gem, hence he brings to the beauty of nature the human understanding required for it to shine, in the way it deserves as a wonder of the Creator’s excellence.  It his moment of appreciation, the connoisseur is elevated to a spiritual plane of existence, with awe for the greatness of life, a moment of transcendence or nirvana brought through the discipline of pearl connoisseurship.  By perfecting himself, the connoisseur brings beauty, truth, and love into our world, the highest achievement possible for a man.  The process begins with facts about rare pearls.

  • The second-rarest pearl comes from Nautilus pompilius. Less than six are known on earth, counting two in the collection of the Emir of Qatar.

Photo by Harold and Erika Van Pelt

Photo by Harold and Erika Van Pelt

  • Pteria penguin and Pteria sterna make beautiful and very rare pearls.  They vary in color but can have mirror-like luster, seen in the 15 carat drop below.

Photo by Thomas Montgomery Ortega Stern

  • White Conch and Tridacna pearls can be large, symmetrical, and make stunning jewelry, for example this $135,000 brooch/pin of 53 carat pearl, diamond, and blue sapphire by American designer Paula Crevoshay.

“Illumination” by Paula Crevoshay

Crevoshay also used a white conch pearl of some 29 carats in her “Celestial Moonbeam” ring, which sold for more than $100,000.

  • Baroque pearls from Pinctada maxima can exceed 50 carats, as in this necklace by prize-winning designer Martin Bernstein, with a price of $350,000.

Photo by Martin Bernstein

  • Below, notice the large Pinctada maxima wild pearl beneath the foot of the solid gold elephant, handcarved by the artist, which tops a fabulous music box designed by Jim Grahl of Newport Beach California, for approximately $1,250,000.

Photo by Jim Grahl

Other rare pearls include Melo melo, Codakia, Murex, Tridacna, Atrina, and wild Pinctada margaritifera, the mollusk used to culture Tahitian pearls.

For more information on collecting rare wild pearls or on any of the jewelry shown, you may contact us at

Comments are closed.