A Brief History of Akoya Pearls

The Japanese businessman Kokichi Mikimoto first brought cultured pearls to the market. Pearls had fascinated Mikimoto from a young age. So, he decided to try to make them himself. At the time, Chinese workers had successfully cultivated so-called “blister pearls” in freshwater mollusks. Not true pearls, these are hollow dome shapes that grow attached to the insides of mollusks’ shells. Mikimoto decided to attempt the same, but with saltwater mollusks.

In 1890, he started with specimens of Pinctada fucata, the Akoya pearl oyster, and found success quickly. Ten years later, although business was booming, he was unsatisfied. What he really wanted was a perfect, round pearl, unattached to the shell.

Continuing to experiment, he found a way to cultivate whole pearls in 1905. By covering a seed with another mollusk’s donor tissue, he was able to induce the formation of a pearl sac, and the bead grew layers of nacre. So, he applied for a patent. However two others had successfully cultured pearls using a similar process, but with nuclei of silver and gold and only a small piece of mantle tissue.

Eventually, the inventors came to an agreement. In…