Thursday, August 20, 2009
Loving Pearls and Making
Them a Lifelong Dream
"I would like to adorn the necks of all the women of the world with pearls," Kokichi Mikimoto said shortly after he succeeded in culturing a perfectly round pearl. He seemed to be rambling on about an unachievable dream. However, the elegant beauty of Kokichi's cultured pearls was eventually recognized by women throughout the world, and his wish was fulfilled, as the name "Mikimoto" became well-known around the globe.With his keen, instinctive sense of beauty, Kokichi was the most enthusiastic of jewelers, a man who devoted his life to the cultured pearls and pearl jewelry that he loved and set his hopes upon.
Nurturing the Dream
With their mysterious yet pure and honest glimmer, pearls have won the hearts of countless people through the ages. After the mid 1800s, just before the Meiji Period, Japan became deeply involved with foreign trade and its natural pearls, already regarded as precious, became more treasured than ever before. At the same time, the pearl oysters around Mikimoto's hometown of Ise-Shima were being over-harvested to a crisis point. He threw himself into the task of seeding oysters and creating pearls, and for decades, he spent every waking hour on research and experiments.
Pearls had always been a chance product of nature and initial efforts to delve into their mysteries did not yield immediate results. Factors such as red tides and low water temperatures lead to repeated failures. Regardless of the many complications imposed by nature, Kokichi pledged to commit every fiber of his being to the task and he had the stubborn confidence to turn mighty nature into his ally. The day he had been waiting for finally came on July 11, 1893. In the company of his wife Ume, he raised one of the bamboo oyster baskets out of the water, opened one of the oysters, and there, inside the shell, he discovered a shining pearl. This was the first time in history that a human being had ever created a pearl.
Growing the Dream
Once he had succeeded in culturing a pearl, Kokichi's urge to research grew even stronger. He had always been enchanted by the mysterious glow of the legendary black lipped pearls and silver lipped pearls, and he made up his mind to try culturing them.In 1914, Kokichi opened a culturing site for Black South Sea pearl oysters on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa. Overcoming the often daunting forces of nature, including continual typhoons, in 1931 he turned his fantasy into reality with the production of a giant pearl, 10mm in diameter.He also dispatched a team of researchers to the South Pacific island of Palau, where they had considerable success in culturing pearls.While trying to meet the challenge of producing black lipped and silver lipped cultured pearls, he encouraged the development of local pearl industries on previously underdeveloped islands. He contributed so significantly to the development of these islands that the name 'Mikimoto' is spoken of with reverence even to this day.
Creating a Style
Hoping to enhance understanding of pearls by making them more accessible, Kokichi founded the world's first store specializing pearl jewelry in Tokyo's Ginza district. In 1906, he moved the store to a new building in Ginza 4-chome. The Mikimoto Pearl Store, a two-story Western-style building made of white stone, was a remarkably new type of establishment, offering Kokichi's keen sense of contemporary fashion in the form of beautiful, high-quality items.Stylish young men in finely tailored high-collared three-piece suits waited on the customers and each month the store featured new displays conceived by expert designers. Kokichi put the utmost effort into decorating the showcases with jewelry representing the highest quality and most refined styles. The Mikimoto Pearl Store, a product of Kokichi's study of Western aesthetics and his own unique sense of style, soon attracted worldwide attention. Kokichi steadily continued pursuing his dreams.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual event celebrating Japanese-American friendship that dates back to 1912. The festival crown was created by Mikimoto in 1956 and donated to the festival committee for the crowning of the Cherry Blossom Queen.
The five story Pagoda, elegantly modeled after the five-tiered pagoda at Horyuji Temple, created a sensation. Today it is on display at Mikimoto Pearl Island.