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MIKI

"The Man Who Changed the Pearl Industry"

 Kokichi Mikimoto was an entrepreneur born in 1858 in Toba, a small town on the Japanese peninsula of Shima. His father was a noodle-shop owner and worked hard to feed his children, by selling vegetables and charcoal. It was from his father that he learnt a strong work ethic from a young age.
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In the 1800's, natural Ise pearls were Toba’s most famous local product, but were becoming increasingly scarce due to aggressive harvesting of the oyster beds. Mikimoto witnessing the devastating decline in oysters in his hometown and began his search of an alternative method to produce pearls. 
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Natural oysters are formed when an external irritant enters an oyster shell. The oyster then protects itself from the irritant by layering nacre around the irritant, which froms a pearl. Mikimoto made what is now called 'cultured pearls' by seeding the oyster with a small amount of mother of pearl, replicating 'irritant' in the oyster so that the oyster can start the process of layering the irritant with nacre and therefore making a pearl. 
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There was a lot of public confusion when Mikimoto initially began selling his cultured pearls as most deemed his pearls 'fake'. In order to educate consumers and encourage sales, Mikimoto decided to open a jewellery boutique in Ginza where he taught his workers to educate the consumer on the nature of the cultured pearls - his business then started to flourish as more and more consumers were understanding that cultured pearls were in fact, real. 
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Although Mikimoto created cultured pearls, he wanted to make the perfect spherical pearl. It still took another 12 years to create completely spherical pearls that are known as the highest quality of pearls. Mikimoto spent time not only in his hometown of Toba, he also spent some time in Australia to study the biology of spherical pearls from Australian pearl expert, William Saville-Kent. On the 11th of July 1893, after many failures and near bankruptcy, Mikimoto was able to create the hemispherical cultured pearls. His success in creating spherical pearls put Cultured pearls on the map, showing the world that cultured pearls share the same high quality found in Natural pearls. 
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Mikimotos creation of cultured pearls impressed inventor Thomas Edison who was believed to be in awe saying "Cultured peals was supposed to biollogically impossible". 
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Mikimoto changed the pearl industry forever, because of him oysters around the world are being protected. More more pearl companies are now using his method. Oysters went from being harvested for pearls then disposed of as a 'one time use' to now being protected and harvested carefully. 
Mikimotos pearls is now global jewellery empire with pearls being sold up to $700,000 USD - not bad for a man who was accused of creating 'fake' pearls, am I right?
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If it wasn't for Mikimoto and his invention of cultured pearls, pearls would cease to exist. 

 Photo: Kokichi Mikimoto aged 70, Image: K. Mikimoto & Co. Ltd