May 10, 2022

Sustainable Luxury

Elevated Lifestyle,

SOAR Magazine

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Mikimoto pearls represent more than opulence and glamour – their famous Akoya cultured pearls celebrate one of Mother Nature’s most brilliant gems. Pearls offer a natural, organic, environmentally-sustainable source of charm that comes in all shapes, sizes and colors.

Pearl jewelry has seen a considerable resurgence in recent years, topping trend list after trend list, season after season. Let’s be clear, though; pearls never went out of style. After all, pearls are a timeless classic that have been around for centuries, adorning the ears, wrists and necks of royalty, movie stars and political powerhouses.

The difference now is the wearability and approachability of the pearl. It’s no longer reserved solely for special occasions and formal events. Pearls are being worn in fresh and modern ways – resonating with a younger audience as well as fashion’s elite. Most recently, pearls have even crossed gender lines, being embraced by male athletes and musicians alike.

Interest and demand for pearls continue to surge, with studies indicating the global pearl market will reach $20 billion by 2025. Because high-quality pearls retain their value, they make an excellent alternative to other gemstones.

In fact, in recent years, several auction houses have boasted pearl jewelry sales that far exceed the value of other gemstones and precious metals. However, none of this growth potential would have been possible without the founder of Mikimoto.

Over a century ago, Kōkichi Mikimoto worked tirelessly to create the world’s first cultured pearl, but his legend goes beyond his innovation. For decades, Mikimoto’s jewelry house has continued to offer the most beautiful, intricate and meticulously crafted pearl jewelry available on the market.

“Not only did our founder invent the process of creating cultured pearls, Kōkichi’s singular goal to spread the beauty of pearls around the world continues to drive our organization. Mikimoto exists solely to offer the highest quality pearls possible,” said Ron Franco, Senior Manager of Promotions and Public Relations for Mikimoto America.

This uncompromising commitment to quality led luxury jewelry retailer Borsheims to partner with Mikimoto to elevate their jewelry assortment. The partnership seems to be a match made in high-end jewelry heaven, with each brand boasting a rich heritage and respected reputation within the jewelry industry.

“Borsheims and Mikimoto pair extremely well due to our storied histories, but also because the products we sell offer compelling narratives of their own. In our quest to expand our portfolio to offer the finest brands, we knew that our customers wanted to see Mikimoto in our store,” said Karen Goracke, President and CEO of Borsheims.

It Begins at the Sea

The distinctive Mikimoto look combines European-style jewelry techniques with the Japanese aesthetic, expert craftsmanship and a desire to spread the beauty of the pearl across the globe. In 1893, Kōkichi Mikimoto became the first person in the world to successfully culture a pearl, but this breakthrough came after years of difficult experimentation. 

Mikimoto, born in 1858, was the eldest son of a noodle shop owner and grew up on Japan’s Shima peninsula. At age 11, his father became ill and Mikimoto left school to sell vegetables to support his family. From his vegetable stand, the young Mikimoto watched pearl divers unload their treasured yields, beginning a lifelong fascination with pearls. At the time, natural pearls were extremely rare and valuable, as less than one in 10,000 oyster shells produce a pearl of value in their lifetime. 

Kōkichi Mikimoto in 1932. Mikimoto is widely accepted as one of the greatest inventors of the 20th century, alongside Thomas Edison.

By the age of 20, Mikimoto was well-versed in the pearl trade and was unsatisfied with the many inherent flaws of natural pearls. Not only did the pearls lack quality, but Mikimoto also feared they were being harvested at such a rate that extinction might occur. In 1878, Mikimoto sought to culture pearls in his protected oyster beds on Ojima Island, beginning an epic quest to develop the perfect pearl. When Mikimoto learned that Akoya oysters produced the best pearls, he explored methods to introduce a particle into the flesh of the oyster that would stimulate secretions of nacre (also known as Mother-of-Pearl) that built up in thousands of layers – eventually forming a lustrous pearl.

For 15 years, Mikimoto experimented and researched. In 1893, he and his wife brought up a basket of oysters from the sea for inspection and were elated to find a cultivated pearl as worthy as a natural one. Three years later, in 1896, Mikimoto was granted his first patent for cultured pearls and a business was born. His proprietary process enabled Japan’s early cultured pearl industry to expand quickly. In 1899, the first Mikimoto pearl shop opened in the fashionable Ginza district of Tokyo. 

Even America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison, stood in awe of Mikimoto’s cultured pearls, declaring them a wonder of the world when the two fellow inventors met during a world tour in 1927. Constantly seeking to refine processes, Mikimoto established the Mikimoto Pearl Research Laboratory on Tatoku Island in 1933. From this laboratory, researchers at Mikimoto have been working on a wide range of research topics, from developing techniques to cultivate pearls, identifying ways to improve and evaluate the quality of cultured pearls, and preserving the marine environment on which the production of cultured pearls depends.

In 1954, Mikimoto passed away at the age of 96 as a revered inventor and businessman in Japan and abroad. After his passing, the ‘Pearl King’ was inducted into the House of Peers by Imperial Decree and was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure, the highest possible honor awarded to individuals by the Emperor of Japan. 

Share a Little Luster

While man can initiate the pearl process, it is up to nature to determine the quality of the final pearl. Of the pearls created after a five- to ten-year farming cycle, only 5% are of the high quality required for fine jewelry, according to the Cultured Pearl Association of America. 

“On top of offering only the highest-quality pearls, our company’s vertical integration allows us greater quality control. After the harvest, we sort, design, set, grade and distribute them. We also have our own Meguro pearl factory, which is more than a century old and the oldest jewelry factory in Japan. Our story and our process set us apart,” said Franco.

M Code Bracelet (Akoya Cultured Pearls set in 18K Yellow Gold)

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