Mikimoto Kōkichi

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Kōkichi Mikimoto
MIKIMOTO Kokichi.jpg
Born(1858-01-25)January 25, 1858
DiedSeptember 21, 1954(1954-09-21) (aged 96)
Resting place Aoyama Cemetery in Aoyama, Minato, Tokyo, Japan
Nationality Japanese
OccupationCultured pearl farmer, Founder of Mikimoto Pearl Company
Known forInventor of cultured pearls
The Mikimoto Crown
Miss International crown

Mikimoto Kōkichi(御木本 幸吉, 25 January 1858 21 September 1954) was a Japanese entrepreneur who is credited with creating the first cultured pearl and subsequently starting the cultured pearl industry with the establishment of his luxury pearl company Mikimoto. [1] [2]

Japan Country in East Asia

Japan is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies off the eastern coast of the Asian continent and stretches from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea in the south.

Cultured pearl

A cultured pearl is a pearl created by a mussel farmer or oyster farmer under controlled conditions. Cultured pearls can be farmed using two very different groups of bivalve mollusk: the freshwater river mussels, and the saltwater pearl oysters.


Kokichi's company was awarded patents for pearl cultivation and in 1985 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the patent system he was selected as one of Japan's top 10 inventors. [3] [4] He was inducted into the house of peers by imperial decree and posthumously awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure . [2] [4]

House of Peers (Japan) upper house of the Imperial Diet of Japan

The House of Peers was the upper house of the Imperial Diet as mandated under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan.

Order of the Sacred Treasure Japanese order

The Order of the Sacred Treasure is a Japanese order, established on 4 January 1888 by Emperor Meiji as the Order of Meiji. Originally awarded in eight classes, since 2003 it has been awarded in six classes, the lowest two medals being abolished that year. The most widely conferred Japanese order, it is awarded to those who have made distinguished achievements in research fields, business industries, healthcare, social work, state/local government fields or the improvement of life for handicapped/impaired persons.

The company was ranked as one of the world’s most luxurious brands by Women's Wear Daily Magazine and Mikimoto was considered one of the best Japanese financial leaders of the 20th century by Nihon Keizai Shimbun. [4] He is also known as the founder of Mikimoto Pharmaceuticals, a company specialising in beauty products containing pearl calcium. Mikimoto Pearl Island is named after him. In addition, the "Phoenix Mikimoto Crown" used by former Miss Universe winners as well as the pageant crown used by Miss International is credited to his patented work.

<i>Womens Wear Daily</i> Fashion-industry trade journal

Women's Wear Daily (WWD) is a fashion-industry trade journal sometimes called "the bible of fashion". WWD delivers information and intelligence on changing trends and breaking news in the men and women's fashion, beauty and retail industries with a readership composed largely of retailers, designers, manufacturers, marketers, financiers, media executives, advertising agencies, socialites and trend makers. It is the flagship publication of Fairchild Fashion Media, which is owned by Penske Media Corporation. James Fallon is the editorial director of Fairchild Fashion and the publisher of WWD is Paul Jowdy. Its editor-in-chief is Miles Socha. The final newsprint edition of WWD was printed on April 24, 2015 as the paper switched to a digital daily format and a weekly print edition was launched on April 29, 2015.

Mikimoto Pearl Island

Mikimoto Pearl Island is a small island in Ise Bay, offshore Toba, Mie Prefecture, Japan.

Mikimoto Crown

The Phoenix Mikimoto Crown, also informally known as the Mikimoto Crown is a pageant crown worn by Miss Universe titleholders.

Early life

On 25 January 1858, Mikmoto was born in Toba, Shima Province (now Mie Prefecture). Mikimoto's father was an udon shop owner. Mikimoto was the eldest son. At age 11, Mikimoto's father fell ill. He left school at the age of 13 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. [5] At the age of 20, Mikimoto noticed the many flaws of pearls as he judged a pearl exhibition in 1878. This began Mikimoto’s search for the development of the perfect pearl. [6]

Toba, Mie City in Japan

Toba is a city located in Mie Prefecture, Japan.

Shima Province province of Japan

Shima Province was a province of Japan which consisted of a peninsula in the southeastern part of modern Mie Prefecture. Its abbreviated name was Shishū (志州). Shima bordered on Ise Province to the west, and on Ise Bay on the north, east and south.

Mie Prefecture Prefecture of Japan

Mie Prefecture is a prefecture of Japan located in the Kansai region of Honshu. Mie Prefecture has a population of 1,808,549 (2016) has a geographic area of 5,777 km2. Mie Prefecture borders Gifu Prefecture to the north, Shiga Prefecture and Kyoto Prefecture to the northwest, Nara Prefecture to the west, Wakayama Prefecture to the southwest, and Aichi Prefecture to the east.

Pioneering cultured pearls

Mikimoto began his search of an alternative method to produce pearls as the chairman of the Shima Marine Products Improvement Association. At this point the demand for pearls had severely outweighed the supply, prompting the consideration of an effort to protect the oysters. [7]

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. On 11 July 1893, after many failures and near bankruptcy, he was able to create the hemispherical cultured pearls. The pearls were made by seeding the oyster with a small amount of mother of pearl. [7] Despite this major discovery there were initially difficulties in selling his cultured pearls due to public confusion. To encourage sales, Mikimoto opened a jewelry boutique in Ginza where he was able to have workers educate the consumer on the nature of the cultured pearls. [6] [7] 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 1927, Mikimoto met with inventor, Thomas Edison, who was in awe of Mikimoto's cultured pearls as it was "supposed to be biologically impossible". [8]

Ago Bay

Ago Bay is a bay in the city of Shima, Mie Prefecture, Japan. It is part of the Ise-Shima region.

Norway Country in Northern Europe

Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic country in Northern Europe whose territory comprises the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula; the remote island of Jan Mayen and the archipelago of Svalbard are also part of the Kingdom of Norway. The Antarctic Peter I Island and the sub-Antarctic Bouvet Island are dependent territories and thus not considered part of the kingdom. Norway also lays claim to a section of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land.

Mikimoto building in Tokyo, Taisho period. Mikimoto building in Taisho and Pre-war Showa eras.JPG
Mikimoto building in Tokyo, Taishō period.

Mikimoto did not know that government biologist Tokichi Nishikawa and a carpenter, Tatsuhei Mise, had each spent time in Australia and learned the secret to spherical pearl production from expatriate British marine biologist William Saville-Kent [9] inserting a piece of oyster epithelial membrane (the lip of mantle tissue) with a nucleus of shell or metal into an oyster's body or mantle causes the tissue to form a pearl sack. The sack produces nacre, which coats the nucleus, thus creating a pearl. Mise received a 1907 patent for this grafting needle. When Nishikawa applied in the same year, he realized that Mise had already secured a patent. In a compromise, the pair agreed to cooperate, calling their discovery the "Mise-Nishikawa method".

Mikimoto had received a patent in 1896 for producing hemispherical pearls, or mabes, and a 1908 patent for culturing in mantle tissue, but he could not use the Mise-Nishikawa method without invalidating his own patents. Mikimoto then altered his patent application to cover a technique to make round pearls in mantle tissue, which was granted in 1916. However, this method was not commercially viable. Mikimoto finally made arrangements to use Nishikawa's methods after 1916, and Mikimoto's business began to expand rapidly.

Industry success

The new technology enabled Japan's cultured pearl industry to quickly expand after 1916; by 1935 there were 350 pearl farms in Japan producing 10 million cultured pearls annually.

Mikimoto Pearl Company

Mikimoto store in Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo Mikimoto Ginza2.JPG
Mikimoto store in Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo

In 1899, the first Mikimoto pearl shop opened in the fashionable 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 plummeting prices for Japanese cultured pearls. Mikimoto promoted Japanese pearls in Europe and the USA to counteract falling prices. He publicly burnt tons of low-quality pearls as a publicity stunt to establish a reputation that the Mikimoto company only sold high-quality cultured pearls.

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.

Mikimoto had to constantly fight allegations that his pearls were only “imitations” of real pearls, [8] despite scientific reports to the contrary. Mikimoto took advantage of every opportunity to personally promote his pearls, and took part in the 1926 Philadelphia World Exposition in which he displayed a replica of the "Liberty Bell" covered with pearls.

Mikimoto was the official jeweler of the Miss USA (2003–2008), Miss Universe (2002–2007 and 2017-present) and Miss Teen USA (2002–2008) pageants, under the Miss Universe Organization.

In 2010/2011, the company's estimated total sales were €300 million. [10]

Personal life

Mikimoto's wife was Ume, who was also his partner in creating the cultured pearl. [11] Mikimoto and his wife have five children. [12] Mikimoto's children are Rui (eldest daughter), Mine (second daughter), Yo (third daughter), Ai (youngest daughter), and Ryuzo (son). On 21 September 1954, Mikimoto died. He was 96. Mikimoto's personal memorabilia is displayed at Mikimoto Pearl Island Memorial Hall, a museum in Toba, Japan. [12] [13]

Ume and Children in Winter 1895. Famille kokichi.jpg
Ume and Children in Winter 1895.

See also

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  2. 1 2 Ward, Fred. Pearls: Bethesda, MD: Gem Book Publishers, 2002.
  3. http://www.batfa.com/greatjapanese.html
  4. 1 2 3 http://www.mikimoto-cosme.com/en/company/history.html
  5. "Legacy and Biography of Kokichi Mikimoto". mikimotoamerica.com. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  6. 1 2 Steigrad, Alexandra (April 2013). "Vol. 205, Iss. 67". Women's Wear Daily.
  7. 1 2 3 Eunson, Robert (1955). The Pearl King; the story of the fabulous Mikimoto. Angus and Robertson. pp. 71–80.
  8. 1 2 "Pearl Jamming with Mikimoto". Popspoken . Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  9. George, C. Denis. "Debunking a Widely Held Japanese Myth: Historical Aspects on the Early Discovery of the Pearl Cultivating Technique".
  10. Chevalier, Michel (2012). Luxury Brand Management. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN   978-1-118-17176-9.
  11. "Mikimoto and Wife Ume of Pearl Island". karipearls.com. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  12. 1 2 Kim, Svetlana (20 November 2012) "Kokichi Mikimoto's Unforgettable Dream". alist-magazine.com. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  13. "Mikimoto Pearl Island Memorial Hall". karipearls.com. Retrieved 10 June 2017.