For more than 3500 years pearls have been collected, sought, bought and prized as the world’s only organically produced gemstone. Long before man learned how to face emeralds or cut diamond, pearls were regarded as one of the epitomai of luxury jewelry, and can only afford to the most wealthy and influential.
From thousands of year’s people of all the cultures sought the elusive concept of pearls, how did they grow and why did they grow. Theories ranged from dewdrops to tears of the God’s but the most commonly accepted urban legend of a trapped grain of sands. Until the end of the 19th-century shell farmer’s and scientists were only able to produce pearls or blister pearls attached to the inside of mollusk shells.
This all had changed when British expatriate marine biologist William Saville-Kent developed a new way to stimulate a mollusk to produce whole pearls in Australia. His technique was involved planting a rounded bead inside a mollusk. This had been attempted before, but he discovered the most real secret. Including the bead, he implanted a small piece of donor mollusk mantle tissue. The perfect combination was come out. This small piece of tissue acted like a catalyst for pearl production. It grew into a pearl sac which enveloped the bead and coated it with nacre and produced a pearl.
William Saville-Kent died shortly after discovering this secret technique, but not before sharing his secret with two Japanese; one Mr. Tatsuhei Mise and another was Mr. Tokishi Nishikawa. Nishikawa and Mise returned to Japan with this technique and immediately filed for patents. At this same time shell farmer, Kokichi Mikimoto was also culturing blister pearls but desperately seeking the secret to whole pearl culturing. The secret had finally come into Japan!
After multiple battles in court Kokichi Mikimoto finally succeeded in securing a patent for whole pearl cultivation in 1916. The cultured pearl industry used to be called the Mikimoto Pearl Company.
For more than 50 years the Japanese closely guarded it as their national secret and maintained a virtual monopoly of pearl cultivation and marketing. And even ventures outside of Japan in Australia, Thailand, Burma, and French Polynesia were under the direction of Japanese and operational specialists and grafting technicians. Technicians swore an oath that he/she would never reveal the secret of pearl culture to anyone.
This well-kept secret remained still with the Japanese until the late 1950s and early 1960s, when other countries like China, Tahiti, and Australia finally developed the same methods for pearl culturing. China began culturing Akoya pearls in the 1960s also Tahiti cultivated black South Sea pearls. Australia soon followed suit producing most valuable and the largest of all cultured pearls ‘South Sea pearls’ from the Pinctada maxima pearl oyster.
Now a day’s pearl farms are found all over the world and the Japanese dominance over the industry is all but gone.
There are now thousands of pearl farms in all over China, hundreds in French Polynesia, many in Korea, Vietnam, and Australia, and even some small operations in India, Mexico, and Venezuela. Until recently in Tennessee, there was even a freshwater pearling operation.
This worldwide pearl culturing technique has finally put owning better pearl jewelry within the reach of nearly everyone. Freshwater pearls can be purchased for as little as a couple of dollars a strand for low-grade but genuine pearls. High-quality freshwater like Akoya pearls can now be secured for just a few hundred dollars. And Even Tahitian pearls no longer cost tens thousands of dollars per strand. Pearls have now become a beauty afforded to everyone.