The term keshi has been getting some bad press of late. In a recent article for Bo Torrey’s Pearl World, Renee Newman writes about misuse of the term:
Is “Keshi” Becoming a Meaningless Term?
Last February, CIBJO (the World Jewellery Confederation) announced a new definition for “keshi”—a non-beaded cultured pearl formed accidentally or intentionally by human intervention in marine pearl oysters such as the akoya oyster, silver/gold-lipped oyster, black-lipped oyster and freshwater molluscs. This change means that any cultured pearl without a nucleus is a keshi. In other words, the majority of freshwater pearls can now be identified as keshis because most do not have a bead nucleus. Depending on one’s definition of “bead,” pearls nucleated with mud or plastic may also be called keshi. Many large petal-shaped freshwater pearls have a flexible nucleus made of plastic sheeting. Fuji Voll of Pacific Pearls calls them lightweight coin pearls, but some vendors are selling them as keshis.
Chien Lin, president of Inter World Trading, told me that the term “keshi” was initially used in Japan to refer to natural seed pearls found when harvesting wild akoya oysters. Since the tiny natural pearls resembled poppy seeds, they were called keshi, which means “poppy” in Japanese. Lin learned this from the old-generation pearl traders he met while growing up in the pearl industry in Kobe, and he has verified this usage of “keshi” with a specialist at the Mikimoto Pearl Museum in Japan. Over time, the word became much more broadly used internationally.
After the Japanese started culturing akoya pearls, the term “keshi” was also used for the by-products of akoya cultivation that did not contain a bead nucleus. Akoya keshi pearls can range from small “seed-sized” to skinny pearls as long as 14 mm.
The term became more confusing when freshwater pearls and South Sea pearls from the silver- and black-lipped oysters entered the market. Keshi from South Sea pearl oysters are generally much larger in size than akoya pearls because of the size of the mother of pearl and speed of the nacre formation.
To add another element of confusion to the term “keshi,” petal shaped Chinese “reborn” freshwater pearls (Zai Sheng Zhu in Mandarin) came into the picture. If first-harvest pearls are carefully removed so as not to kill the mussel, “reborn pearls” can form spontaneously in the pearl sacs after the first harvest. “Reborn pearls” are also identified as second generation pearls or keshi.
Chien Lin has referred to these reborn pearls as “keshi-type cultured freshwater pearls” because they are not accidental byproducts of pearl culturing; they are intentionally produced by pearl farmers without inserting a tissue graft. Other freshwater dealers, however, have preferred to call them keshis and lobbied CIBJO to change the meaning of the term to include any non-bead nucleated freshwater pearl. They wanted the same nomenclature rights as saltwater dealers. Consequently, keshis are no longer special pearls since any cultured beadless pearl can be called a keshi now, according to CIBJO guidelines. This is confusing to people who have learned other definitions of “keshi.” The GIA avoids confusion by simply identifying keshis as cultured pearls on their lab documents.
I think it’s best to select terms that describe the outer appearance pearls rather than their nucleus or lack of nucleus. For example, “petal pearl” is more meaningful than “keshi,” which can have any type of shape, size, color, quality or origin. In addition, dealers who assign terms based on the outer appearance of a pearl cannot be accused of misrepresenting their merchandise. It’s not practical or cost effective to slice freshwater pearls or x-ray them to determine if they have a nucleus or not, but that’s what you have to do nowadays to positively identify the presence and type of nucleus. Pearls with plastic nuclei can be easily mistaken for non-nucleated pearls because of their low weight and similar shapes. Such mistakes can be avoided by concentrating on the obvious visual attributes of pearls. In other words, instead of being concerned about the presence of a nucleus in a cultured pearl, it’s better to focus on its uniqueness and beauty.
There’s more upcoming on this term. Stay tuned.