Cultivation of Pearls
Lovers of pearls have always appreciated the colors, luster, and shapes that pearls possess. The history of how pearls became cultivated and turned into a world wide empire, started with a similar idea of three men. But before we dive into the development of cultivated pearls, let's talk about natural pearls. Fred Ward wrote that the debate of where the very first natural pearl was found still continues, but according to George Frederick Kunz, a famous American gemologist, he believed that an ancient fishing tribe off the coast of India initially discovered natural pearls while opening oysters for food.
(An Australian farmer discovered 10 natural pearls in a single oyster. Photo Cred: ABC Rural)
According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), only the incredibly wealthy and royalty could afford natural pearls. Their worth was so substantial that divers would search the ocean floor for mollusks, often failing in their hunt for natural pearls. This led to a a serious decrease in oyster populations. To give you an idea of their worth back then, a Roman general sold one of his mother's earrings that contained a natural pearl to fund an entire military campaign.
(Kokichi Mikimoto. Photo Cred: Rui Galopim de Carvalho)
The three Japanese men that created the cultivation of spherical pearls are Dr. Tokichi Nishikawa who was a marine biologist, Tasuhei Mise, a carpenter, and Kokichi Mikimoto, who turned into a pearl farmer after being a vegetable vendor for most of his life. Talk about an interesting bunch. Tatsuhei Mise implanted thousands of mollusks with a silver and lead nuclei in 1902. Two years later, he successfully harvested cultured round pearls and received the first patent for round cultured pearls in 1907. Dr. Nishikawa also implanted mollusks with silver and gold nuclei around this same time and produced small round cultured pearls. He was granted a patent for round cultured pearls that was extremely similar to Tasuhei Mise's, so the process is commonly known as the Mise-Nishikawa method. Lasty, Kokichi Mikimoto, who is commonly known as the pearl king, created the patent for using mother of pearl nuclei to create akoya pearls. After much refinement, in 1912 round cultured pearls were on the market to the general public, thanks to Kokichi Mikimoto.
(Photo Cred: Misha Lam Mendosa)
White cultured pearls became a fashion statement in the 1950's, and it wasn't until 1970 that black Tahitian pearls were created and farms soon spread throughout French Polynesia. Nowadays, there are an abundant of colors of cultivated pearls. There's even new technology with different types of enhancement processes to aim for specific colors out of pearls. I'm curious what the future has in store for the pearl industry and if anything crazy is going to be created. I guess we will have to wait and see.