History of pearl culturing

As mentioned earlier great number of oysters had to be sacrified in order to find a valuable pearl. By the middle of the 20th century due to the excessive harvesting the oyster banks were destroyed. E.g. in French Polynesia about 100.000 oysters had to be brought up to find one nice pearl.
Already in the 12th century the Chinese pearl-fishers experimented with the first pearl culturing process. They attached different kinds of objects e.g. images of Buddha between the mantle and shell of mussel and put back into the lake or river. After a few years they took it out and cut the pearly object.

The late 1800, thousands of Japanese worked at the shell-fisheries in Northern Australia where William Saville-Kent was the commissioner. He began his pearl culturing experiments in 1888 and three years later he successfully produced a number of cultured blister pearls (mabé) and exhibited these in London. This was two years before Mikimoto produced his five similar pearls in Japan. The early 1900 two Japanese (Tokichi Nishikawa and Tatsuhei Mise) joined their contrymen at the shell-fisheries in Northern Australia. Saville-Kent was not supposed to feel the importance of his researches and was willing to talk to anyone about it. He mentioned that also the technique for culturing round pearls had been elaborated. He died in 1906 and his pearlfarm together with all his records were sold.

Suddenly Nishikawa and Mise independently of each other applied for patents of different parts of pearl culturing The patents were granted to them in 1907 and they agreed that the process held their names. Nishikawa died two years later and their patent was sold to Mikomoto who developed the process and finally the patent was granted to him in 1916. As a matter of fact the pearl culturing is connected to his name. Unfortunately W. Saville-Kent was never granted the respect and honor that he would have deserved. You can scarcely find a book or an article written about pearls, where his name or share in pioneering the pearl culture would be mentioned.

Between the two World Wars the natural pearl market collapsed. The most important cause was the appearance of cultured pearl, then came the Wall Street crash of 1927 and last not least the discovery of oil in the Golf where stable employment and higher wages were attractive for the previous pearl divers.

At the end of the World War II another successful period of Mikomoto’s life began. In the occupied Japan most of the Americal soldiers purchased Mikimoto pearls available in their military store. It was the most precious souvenir they could bring home to make their wives happy. Mikomoto died in 1954. Once he told to a journalist that he owed his long life to the two pearls he took every morning. Besides being an exceptional specialist, he was also an exceptional businessman.

Well, the eradication of oysters was ended. Shells were not needed anymore and the pearls could be cultured.