Born in 1858, Mikimoto Kōkichi was a Japanese entrepreneur who is credited with creating the first cultured pearl and starting the cultured pearl industry with the establishment of his luxury pearl company Mikimoto.
“My dream is to adorn the necks of all women around the world with pearls.” - Kokichi Mikimoto
The story began out of necessity, Mikimoto's father was an Udon shop owner who fell ill when Mikimoto was only 11. Being the eldest son he left school and sold vegetables to support his family. Seeing the pearl divers of Ise unloading their treasures at the shore in his childhood started his fascination with pearls.
In 1888, Mikimoto obtained a loan to start his first pearl oyster farm at the Shinmei inlet on Ago Bay in Mie prefecture with his wife and partner Ume. In 1893, after many failures and nearing bankruptcy, he was able to create the hemispherical cultured pearls. He introduced these mabes at a marine products exposition in Norway in 1897 and began an export business. However, it took him another 12 years to create completely spherical pearls that were indistinguishable from the highest quality natural ones, and commercially viable harvests were not obtained until the 1920s.
In 1899, the first Mikimoto pearl shop opened in the Ginza district of Tokyo selling natural seed pearls and half round pearls. The Mikimoto business expanded internationally, opening stores in London (1913).
By 1935, the Japanese pearl industry was facing oversupply issues and descending prices for Japanese cultured pearls. Mikimoto promoted Japanese pearls in Europe and the United States to counteract falling prices.
After World War II, Mikimoto opened stores in Paris, New York City, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Bombay, and was thus one of the first Japanese brands to attain an international presence and recognition.
The “Phoenix Mikimoto Crown” used by former Miss Universe winners as well as the crown used by Miss International is credited to his patented work.
Mikimoto lived to the age of 96, he is known as the Pearl King. The skill of a scientist and the soul of an artist combined to create the genius of Kokichi Mikimoto, the inventor of cultured pearls.