Early MikimotoFor centuries, man tried to duplicate nature to create pearls. As early as the 1200s, the Chinese created blister pearls by inserting tiny lead images of the Buddha into pearls. The pearls were flat and hollow. It took another several hundred years before spherical pearls could be cultured.
Mikimoto, two Japanese contemporaries, as well as an Australian, all developed similar culturing methods about the same time. None of them were consistently able to produce round Akoyas, and they were very small compared to today's standards.
Mikimoto not only was one of the first developers of a cultured Akoya pearl, but he was also a master entrepreneur and marketer. He was selling vegetables by day and working in his father's noodle shop at night even as a child. As a teen-ager, when he saw what pearls from his hometown were selling for in city markets, he set his sights on figuring out a way to culture pearls.
He harvested the first batch of cultured blister pearls in 1893. His harvest yielded five half pearls. This was enough to inspire him to keep trying to perfect the culturing process. Just two years later, he harvested 4,200 blister pearls. Red tide destroyed his oysters in 1905, but when he opened the dead oysters, he found that five of them had produced whole, spherical pearls. He continued attempting methods to culture them consistently.
Mikimoto ManufacturingMikimoto started marketing his products by opening a jewelry store in 1900 to sell blister pearls. By 1908, he created a factory to make blister pearl jewelry. In 1911, the factory employed 65 workers and boasted sales of nearly $200,000, which would be worth millions in today's dollars. He expanded his market to Europe and the U.S.
By 1919, Mikimoto was creating enough spherical cultured pearls to add to his production capacities. Soon, he had jewelry stores all over Japan, parts of Europe, India, China, and the U.S. One of his most successful promotions was having his jewelers create stunning replicas of famous buildings and historic objects from pearls and exhibiting them at World Fairs and World Expositions.
Today, Mikimoto pearls are considered to be among the finest, with the price tag to prove it. Jewelers will refer to their pearls as "Mikimoto quality." Be sure you buy your pearls from a knowledgeable, reputable dealer so you can be confident your heirloom jewelry purchase is of the best quality, without the inflated price tag that comes with true Mikimoto pearls.