The Fascinating Origins of Cultured Pearls
At the turn of the 20th century, two Japanese inventors – a biologist named Tokichi Nishikawa and a carpenter named Tatsuhei Mise – independently invented ways to cultivate pearls by implanting foreign objects into an oyster’s body. Another inventor, Koichi Mikimoto, discovered a similar but improved technique and bought the rights to Nishikawa’s and Mise’s patents, thus making his own name the most famous in the pearl industry.
Today, Mikimoto continues to be a well known brand name (not a type of pearl, as many people believe). Interesting, at the core of every Japanese saltwater cultured pearl is a small, white bead nucleus made from the shell of the American Pig Toe clam. Over time, other experts have discovered ways to enhance cultured pearls. They’re often mildly bleached, for even coloration, or dyed to produce overtones or stronger colors.
Natural pearls are rarely seen on the market today. When they’re available, they’re usually vintage pieces, and are sold by carat weight. More common cultured pearls are normally sold according to their size, color and quality.