Posted in  Beginners guide  on  October 11, 2022 by  Anisa0 comments

Kokichi Mikimoto, the “father of cultured pearls,” was born on 25 January 1858 in the town of Toba in Shima, Japan. He had very basic education in reading, writing and arithmetic during grade school. He eventually dropped out of school at 14 years of age in order to become a vegetable vendor.

Mikimoto inadvertently had to terminate his education in order to help out with his family’s finances. In order to improve his earnings, Mikimoto strayed into the marine business, which was no surprise since most people in the port town of Toba in the Shima peninsula of japan were linked to some form of marine commerce.

Mikimoto was quite naturally attracted to the pearl industry, primarily natural pearls harvested from oysters. Because of the rarity and high prices paid for pearls, oysters were fished on a commercial scale.

Since only one or two pearls were found in several thousands of harvested oysters, it led to dwindling reserves of these mollusks.

After observing the inefficiencies and wastefulness of the natural pearl business, Mikimoto devoted the rest of his adult life to a more sustainable method of artificially growing and harvesting pearls.

Table of Contents

By what date did Kokichi Mikimoto begin culturing pearls?

It is widely believed that Mikimoto established his first pearl farm in 1888 on the Shinmei inlet in the Shima peninsula of Japan. His knowledge of oysters was rather rudimentary at this stage since he had not received any formal training in marine biology.

He demonstrated his passion for pearl production and oyster conservation by exhibiting live oysters and their harvested pearl products at a local fair in April 1890.

It was during this event that he had a chance meeting with Professor Kakichi Mitsukuri of Tokyo University, a luminary in the field of marine biology at the time.

He learned from Professor Mitsukuri the complex biology of nacreous secretion by oysters as a form of natural protection to isolate themselves from intruders or repair damage to their sensitive shells.

It has been speculated that Mikimoto started his pearl-cultivating project the day after his chance meeting with Professor Mitsukuri.

When were the first cultivated pearls made?

There is documentary evidence that the Chinese had indeed produced part-spherical cultured pearls from mussels (part of the mollusk family, a kind of shelled-aquatic creature) over 3000 years ago.

Mikimoto’s attempts at pearl cultivation

Mikimoto’s novel attempts involved the implantation of spherical beads of mother-of-pearl inside sea-water oysters. These implanted oysters were subsequently secured in bamboo baskets and suspended in the sea.

Since natural pearls take a painfully long time to mature, Mikimoto examined his oysters intermittently over several months to document the progress of pearl formation.

Quite disappointingly, most of the oysters rejected the implanted nidus of mother of pearl, while the remainder showed no apparent change in size.

His series of experiments took a tremendous toll on his finances, leading him to near bankruptcy.

culturing blister pearls

To make an already precarious situation worse,  during one of his pivotal years of experimentation, a red tide caused by an excess of plankton completely exterminated his farm of oysters. This would have been devastating for Mikimoto had it not been for a small repository of oysters left at Toba, Japan. A location that is now referred to as Pearl Island.

In July 1893, his wife, during a routine inspection of implanted oysters, found their first cultured blister pearl. Mikimoto subsequently filed a patent for his novel procedure for oyster implantation and was granted a patent for the procedure in January 1896.  

Further experiments

His brief success hit a major hurdle in 1905 after a second flurry of plankton infestation (red tide) further decimated his oyster farm.

Mikimoto then embarked on the task of an academic recluse seeking to answer a yearning question. After a few years of hard work, he produced his first completely spherical whole-cultured pearl.

Mikimoto’s novel method for producing whole cultured pearls with the conservation of oysters was registered in February 1908 (Patent No 13673).

Mikimoto’s Blueprint for pearl production


His method involved the painstaking process of wrapping a mother-of-pearl extract in a piece of tissue (harvested from a sacrificed oyster) tied with a very fine silk thread. He then gently placed this into the soft, delicate part of the innards of a live oyster. The oysters were then secured and submerged in saltwater for maturation.


Mikimoto holds a foremost place in the annals of pearl research due to his contribution to the cultivation and commercial promotion of pearl production.

He certainly earned the moniker, “the father of cultured pearls” as shown in his life’s work. I hope you found this history of pearl cultivating as captivating as I did.


Nagai K. A history of the cultured pearl industry. Zoolog Sci. 2013 Oct;30(10):783-93. doi: 10.2108/zsj.30.783.

Zhu, C., Southgate, P.C., Li, T. (2019). Production of Pearls. In: Smaal, A., Ferreira, J., Grant, J., Petersen, J., Strand, Ø. (eds) Goods and Services of Marine Bivalves. Springer, Cham. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-96776-9_5

About the Author


I am a pearl and oyster enthusiast who loves to share her knowledge and experiences about fashion with the world. I am neither a certified gemologist nor a reseller of pearls.

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