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Cultured Pearls

Throughout history, pearls have shown themselves in practically every civilization and culture imaginable; in literature and fine art. Through their belief system, the ancients thought that pearls connected them to the gods. It is unknown exactly when the ancients first discovered the first pearl, however its impact on society is immeasurable for both the mystical beliefs associated with the pearl as well as its natural wonder. There have been many famous pearls, as well as many famed people who wore them.

A Gem is Born

To this extent, one wonders how any why pearls have become so prominent today. Certainly, it was the process of discovering the first pearl, awe and the need to find more that solidified the pearl as a true precious gem and something of value.

The Beauty of A Pearl

To understand the beauty of a pearl, and the force this precious gem has had on society one cannot help but think of the author John Steinbeck, in his book The Pearl where he describes Kino's first encounter with his great discovery, Kino deftly slipped his knife into the edge of the shell. Through the knife he could feel the muscle tighten hard. He worked the blade lever-wise and the closing muscle parted and the shell fell apart. The lip-like flesh writhed up and then subsided. Kino lifted the flesh, and there it lay, the great pearl, perfect as the moon. It captured the light and refined it and gave it back in silver incandescence. It was as large as a sea-gull's egg. It was the greatest pearl in the world.

Mikimoto Pearls

Kokichi Mikimoto was among the early pearl entrepreneurs who was able to produce a fully round cultured pearl in an oyster that was itself raised in captivity. Mikimoto became enamored with pearls at a very young age. Living by the sea as a little boy, Mikimoto sold vegetables to support his family. Each day he would watch the local pearl divers unloading their harvests of valuables on the shore at dusk. The mirror like quality of the high luster pearl cast a spell on the young and enterprising Mikimoto. These formative years along the shorelines marked the beginning of his eternal fascination and quest to harvest the perfect pearl.

As soon as he gathered enough money, he partnered up with his wife to buy his first pearl farm. Mikimoto was able to combine his business acumen along with his knowledge of pearls to combine the best elements of several recently patented developments related to the new technology of cultured pearls. After more than a decade of failures and missteps, his resiliency paid off as he was able to fully cultivate completely round pearls that were identical to the highest quality natural ones. This involved the inserting of pieces of oyster mantle tissue into a bead nucleus of shell or other hardened bead like material leading to the creation of a pearl sack. The sack would ultimately produce the key ingredient of nacre or the skin of the pearl. This allowed Mikimoto to produce high nacre, thick skinned pearls that were round, clean, and of the highest luster. The perfect pearl had been culitvated and harvested to perfection and the Mikimoto business expanded and an empire was born. He founded his company in 1893 and learned that it was the Akoya oyster that was capable of producing the finest pearls in the world during his time. He himself was among a few who was able to make a complete round cultured pearl and through his marketing genius, bring this precious gem to the world pioneering what we know to be the cultured pearl industry. Unlike natural pearls, cultured pearls are produced by a periculture or pearl cultivation where through farming, an oyster is induced or implanted by inserting an artificial item such as a mother-of-pearl bead to initiate the culturing process. When an object is inserted within the flesh of an oyster, it stimulates the secretions of what is known as nacre. The layering or build up of hundreds or even thousands of layers of nacre results in a lustrous cultured pearl. Over two decades later, he received a patent for this invention.

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