Mikimoto, Japanese legend of timeless cultivated pearls
Mikimoto Kōkichi, born in 1858, was a Japanese entrepreneur who is credited with creating the first cultured pearl and subsequently starting the cultured pearl industry with the establishment of his luxury pearl company Mikimoto. Natural pearls are extremely rare. In the wild, less than one in a thousand oyster shells may produce a pearl during their lifetime: hence they were a luxury only for the wealthy before the creation of cultured pearls.
Kokichi Mikimoto decided to try culturing pearls that are loved by people all over the world. He became the first in the world to successfully culture a semi spherical pearl and created his company in 1893. He continued his attempt to culture many different types of pearls, including black and white South Sea cultured pearls. In 1985, Mikimoto was selected as one of Japan's top 10 inventors and was inducted into the house of peers by imperial decree and posthumously awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure.
In 1899, the first Mikimoto pearl shop opened in the fashionable Ginza district of Tokyo selling natural seed pearls and half round pearls. The Mikimoto business expanded internationally, opening stores in London. After World War II, Mikimoto opened stores in Paris, New York City, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai and Bombay, and was thus one of the first Japanese brands to attain an international presence and recognition.
Kokichi sent skilled craftsmen to Europe to learn the latest design techniques and styles in jewelry, including Art Deco and Art Nouveau. Using the experience and knowledge they brought back from Europe, he spent decades blending traditional Japanese craftsmanship and European manufacturing techniques to create the distinctive Mikimoto style. The man for whom Thomas Edison said "It is one of the wonders of the world that you were able to culture pearls" managed to create a new art form that lasts for more than 120 years. Too beautiful. ■