Kokichi Mikimoto: the father of Pearl Culture

Mon, Jul 20th 2009, 12:29

11 July 1893 was a significant day for the pearl industry. It was then that Japan’s Kokichi Mikimoto first produced a perfect round cultured pearl.

Mikimoto experimented for years, eager to discover a technique for producing perfect pearls. Mikimoto came from Ise-Shima, a Japanese town where diving for natural pearls was an important source of income for the town. Towards the end of the 1800s, the pearls had been over-harvested and the town faced an uncertain future.

Mikimoto devoted years of his life experimenting with implanting objects into oysters to encourage the formation of pearls. Back as early as the 13th Century, a pearl budda had been created in China by implanting a lead budda figure into a live mussel. Deposits of pearl around the budda created the Buddha Pearl.

For Mikimoto the challenge was to create regular, predictable pearls in his cultivations. Before this, pearling was a hit-and-miss affair as it was difficult to predict what size and shape pearls could be found in dived oysters.

That day in July 1893, Mikimoto opened up the first oyster in his latest experimental batch and discovered a perfect round shining pearl. Mikimoto perfected the art of creating round pearls in the tissue of the Akoya oyster.

This revolutionised the pearl industry forever. At first people were suspicious of the cultured pearls but once it had been established that the cultured pearls were equal in quality and strength to a naturally occurring pearl, the culture of pearls replaced the harvest of natural pearls.

Mikimoto experimented on creating pearls with different molluscs and opened a successful jewellery store in Tokyo.

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