Kokichi Mikimoto was a pioneer who created the world’s first-ever cultured pearls. A century later, his eponymous jewelry brand lives on.

If you want something that doesn’t exist, invent it yourself. That’s what Kokichi Mikimoto did, who set out to create cultured pearls—pearls that have been manipulated by humans—when he realized the supply of natural pearls was diminishing. And if it weren’t for Kokichi’s gumption and determination, we may not have pearls today at all.

Born in 1858, Kokichi spent much of his early life on the water in his seaside Japanese village, where he realized that the sea’s supply of natural pearls was running scarce. He was fascinated by the science behind this and wanted to bring the beauty of pearls to the masses—and he wanted more for himself than to be a vegetable salesman to help support his family. So, around age 30, Kokichi and his wife Ume took out a loan to establish an oyster farm at the Shinmei inlet, now called Mikimoto Pearl Island. The process of cultivating pearls took a lot of trial and error, but ultimately, in 1893, Kokichi cultured the world’s first semi-spherical pearl; he discovered that by inserting a particle into the flesh of the oyster, it would stimulate nacre secretions and thus create a lustrous cultured pearl.

“My dream is to adorn the necks of all women around the world with pearls.” -Kokichi Mikimoto 

In 1896, he obtained a patent for his pearl cultivating process, but it took a few more years (and a few lawsuits) thereafter for naysayers to believe in his invention.

Eventually, he began marketing his creations through newspapers and ads, but also through national exhibitions. He’d display his extravagant cultured pearl designs around the world, and opened jewelry boutiques in Tokyo, London, Paris and New York.

“My dream is to adorn the necks of all women around the world with pearls,” he once said.

Kokichi, who was nicknamed the “Pearl King,” worked right up util his death in 1954 at age 96, leaving behind his legacy as the first person to culture both white akoya pearls and black South Sea pearls.

For the last century, Mikimoto’s eponymous brand has offered the world’s finest collection of cultured pearl jewelry. Each piece is timeless and modern, traditional and innovative, with the utmost attention to detail.

James Free is a proud retailer of Mikimoto; come visit us in-store to see Mikimoto’s pearls up close, and choose the piece(s) you’ll cherish for generations to come.