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The pearl's iridescent luminosity has entranced women and men for thousands of years. With the mind of a scientist and the soul of an artist, Kokichi Mikimoto created the finest cultured pearls in the world exquisitely displayed in elegant and sophisticated designs.
A Brief History of Mikimoto Jewelry
Kokichi Mikimoto was born in 1858 in Japan's Shima peninsula. As the eldest son of a noodle shop owner, he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. While still a boy, he found pearls infinitely more interesting than noodles. Natural pearls were gathered from the oyster beds in the waters around his town. Because the pearls brought high prices, the oysters were over-harvested and growing scarcer every year.
Pearls develop inside the oyster shell in response to an irritant that works its way into the shell. The oyster then coats the irritant with hundreds of thousands of layers of “nacre,” what we call mother-of-pearl, until a lustrous pearl is formed. Kokichi wondered what if he could introduce an irritant into the shell and “grow pearls.” He established his own oyster beds on Ojima Island and through years of tireless research and experimentation, (as well as serious financial problems, scorn from colleagues, oyster-eating octupi, and destructive red algae), in 1893, he found a cultivated pearl within the folds of an oyster. That year he received a patent for his cultured pearls. In 1899, he opened his first pearl shop in Tokyo and in London and Paris not long after. Eventually, the island was re-named Mikimoto Pearl Island. The Mikimoto luxury pearl company has been the world's leading producer of high-quality cultured pearls and exquisite pearl jewelry.
The pearls became controversial at one point. Were cultured pearls real or fake? Kokichi was sued by the French Association of Commerce and Industry. It took three years, but cultured pearls were deemed real and acknowledged as such by the global jewelry industry. Also, the publicity generated by the trial made Kokichi and cultured pearls famous all over the world.
In 1927, Kokichi toured the United States and met fellow inventor, Thomas Edison, who declared cultured pearls to be one of the wonders of the world. He was extremely impressed that Kokichi was able to do what was thought to be impossible. High praise from such an esteemed and brilliant inventor. Before World War II, Kokichi opened a shop on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.
Kokichi broadened his scope of interest, creating jewelry using gems in addition to the pearls. His master craftsmen went to Europe to learn the latest design techniques and fashions, such as Art Deco and Art Nouveau. From then on, Kokichi blended Japanese metalworking and European manufacturing to create the distinctive Mikimoto style. In addition to inventing cultured pearls, he was responsible for Japan entering the world of modern jewelry.
Kokichi died in 1954 at 96 years of age. His brand and vision live on today. The company continues to produce majestically beautiful and brilliant jewelry to satisfy all of its customers, from royalty to society to celebrities to every jewelry lovers in the world.
Mikimoto Jewelry Designers
All Mikimoto designs are created by award-winning in-house artists. For each piece, dozens of rough drafts are drawn by hand. From those, a few are selected to be painted in meticulous detail with fine-point brushes and traditional Japanese ink, watercolor paints and colored pencils. The result is a 3D-like rendition that will be brought to life by the in-house master craftsmen.
Mikimoto Jewelry Marks
A genuine Mikimoto piece will have either the outline of an oyster or the Mikimoto name or the “M” logo. Look on the back of a clasp, the back of a pendant’s bail, the underside of a brooch, inside the shank of a ring, on the back of earrings or post. Strands of pearls or bracelets will have the dangling “M” charm.
Mikimoto Jewelry Materials
- Cultured Pearls (of course)
- Natural Conch Pearls
- Natural Freshwater Pearls
- Gold, Platinum, Silver
- Silk Thread
- Spinels (lilac- and wisteria-hued)
Pearls Used in Mikimoto Jewelry
- Black South Seas Pearl - Colors of slate grey, black, silver, pistachio, and peacock green with overtones of green, pink, and blue. Peacock green is the rarest color. You will find these pearls in round, oval, teardrop, and irregular baroque shapes. Sizes start at 8mm.
- White South Sea Pearl - White pearls with a satiny luster and subdued opalescence that shifts with lighting. Shapes range from round, ovel, teardrop, and free-form baroque. Sizes start at 9mm.
- Golden South Sea Pearl - Warm, natural golden color is said to be rarer than gold itself. Colors range from champagne to a very rare, deep gold. Harvested at 9mm and up.
- Akoya Pearl - The most popular of all pearl types, Akoya pearls are prized for their brilliant luster and rich color. Available in 3-10mm size. Colors range from white to cream, and pink or blue-gray. Only 5 percent of Akoya pearl harvested is accepted as Mikimoto quality.
- Conch - Conch pearls are one of the world's most unique and luxurious gems. Their characteristic 'flame structure' gives them the appearance of fire burning on the surface. There is no method for culturing these gems.
- Baroque - The unique and organic shapes of baroque pearls as well as their superb luster and beautiful silhouettes create a stunning conversation piece.
Collectible Mikimoto Jewelry
Mikimoto's pearl jewelry is worth collecting and investing in. Mikimoto's cultured pearls will hold their value because of the brands prestige, use of high quality materials, and precise attention to detail.
Jewelry worth collecting from the Mikimoto brand are pieces that stay timeless. These include stud earrings, pearl strand necklaces, cuff links, and pearl brooches. Have a look on Etsy and eBay for pre-owned Mikimoto pieces or buy new from Mikimoto's website.
Tips for Buying Mikimoto Jewelry
- Ask the grade of the pearl(s). Mikimoto pearls have four grades: AAA, AA, +A, and A. If the pearl you are considering is not graded accordingly, it is not a Mikimoto.
- Rub the pearl over the surface of your tooth. Real pearls feel gritty; fake pearls are smooth.
- If possible, examine a pearl in northern morning light. It is the most even illumination of the day.
- Subtle blemishes and tiny marks are natural and assure the pearl is genuine. Sea particles drift into the oyster and brush against the forming pearl. BUT, the fewer imperfections, the higher quality the pearl.
- Pearls come in many shapes. Perfectly round are the rarest and most valuable. Unique shapes are popular and often less expensive: button, tear drop, oval and baroque (irregularly shaped).
- Pearls actually vary in color depending on the oyster, from cream, pink and gray to black, green and blue. White and pink are the most popular, peacock green, and gold are among the rarest. The color is a matter of taste, just make sure the color is evenly distributed throughout the pearl.
- Look for sellers with high customer ratings and reviews.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions, where did the seller obtain the item? Are they knowledgeable? Are they willing to provide more photos?
- Only buy items with a clear signature or makers mark, to be certain of authenticity.
You will have no trouble finding pre-owned Mikimoto jewelry. You can Google local jewelry stores or browse the many online retailers. Just keep in mind that, since you cannot feel the pearl and cannot view it “up close and personal” online, you must be absolutely sure that you have a “money back” guarantee should the item disappoint and you need to return it.