Historical Reading List: Japanese Cultured Pearls

A view of the Mikimoto pearl farm in Ago Bay, Japan. Photo: Valerie Power/GIA
A view of the Mikimoto pearl farm in Ago Bay, Japan. Photo: Valerie Power/GIA

Following several years of experimentation that began in about 1890 at Ago Bay in Japan, Kokichi Mikimoto was able to first produce cultured pearls in 1893, and then round cultured pearls in 1905, and in so doing, he changed the use and availability of pearls for jewellery purposes.  Other researchers had tried to achieve this goal, but their results were unsatisfactory.  Natural pearls had been sought after for several thousand years, but their production was too erratic and insufficient to fill the growing demand for pearl jewellery among consumers.  By introducing a round shell bead into a living pearl oyster, and then placing it back into freshwater or saltwater environments, the oyster would over time coat the bead with layers of nacre.  Following a period of several years, the oyster would be harvested and the cultured pearls, which had great commercial value, would be removed.




This reading list was compiled to give you an opportunity to learn more about the history of Japanese cultured pearls. A number of the articles were published in the 1800s and early 1900s – when many classical gem deposits of historical importance were discovered – and gemmology and mineralogy became sciences. The list is presented in chronological order to emphasise the development of ideas over time. The list is not comprehensive, but a compilation of the sometimes interesting gemmological information that has often been forgotten or overlooked.

Many of the articles exist in the public domain and can be found online at digital libraries such as Hathitrust, Internet Archive or other digital repositories. More recent publications can often be found in libraries, including the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library. Abstracts of these articles can usually be found on the website of the original journal or magazine, and the article itself is often available for purchase from the publisher.

Regarding the GIA library’s holdings and on-site access, please contact the GIA library in Carlsbad.

“Japanese Cultured Pearls”, K. Mikimoto, 24 pp. (1907). In this booklet, the author describes the operations of his pearl-culture farm on Ago Bay.

Pearls of Great Price, K. Mikimoto, Overland Monthly, Vol. 55, No. 1, pp. 83-84 (1910). This brief article written by the inventor describes the development of cultured pearls in Japan.

Success in Causing the Pearl Oyster to Secrete Spherical Pearls, B. Dean, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 40th Annual Meeting, pp. 309-311 (1910). The author discusses the culturing of spherical pearls in Japan by what he describes as a secret process.

The Cultured Pearl Industry, Author unknown, The Japan Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 12, pp. 803-806 (1911).  The idea of causing a pearl-producing oyster to form a pearl by means of introducing some foreign object into its shell has a long history, but most attempts proved unsuccessful.  The author describes the development of the commercial cultured pearl industry in Japan.

A Japanese Pearl-Farm, H. Taylor, Wide World Magazine, Vol. 30, No. 178, pp. 343-351 (1913).  The history of efforts to produce cultured pearls is discussed, and the operation of the pearl farm in Ago Bay is described in some detail.

The Culture of Pearls in Japan, T. Myako, Mid-Pacific Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 5, pp. 422-425 (1915). The culturing of pearls at Ago Bay is discussed.

The Mikimoto Culture Pearl, S. Tomatsu, The Japan Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 545-546 (1919). This article mentions that most of the cultured pearl production in Japan was exported to England, France and America.

“The Kingdom of the Pearl”, L. Rosenthal, Nisbet & Company, London (1920). This book contains a chapter on cultured pearls.

Étude sur les Perles Fines et, en particulier, sur les Nouvelles Perles Complètes de Culture Japonaise [Studies of Pearls, and in particular, the New Japanese Cultured Pearls], L. Boutan, Bulletin de la Station Biologique d’Arcachon, 117 pp. (1921). A detailed description of the Japanese cultured pearls is presented in this publication.

The Japanese Artificially Induced Pearl, H.L. Jameson, Nature, Vol. 107, No. 2691, pp. 396-398 (1921). The author discusses the new Japanese cultured pearls which, when they first appeared in the London market, were misidentified as natural pearls by some experienced pearl merchants.  He discusses the work by Kokichi Mikimoto on pearl culturing, whether these products could be described as pearls and how they could be distinguished from natural pearls.

Perles Fines et Perles Japonaises [Fine Pearls and Japanese Pearls], L. Bertin, La Nature, Vol. 50, No. 2521, pp. 65-69 (1922). A description is presented of the structure of the Japanese cultured pearl.

A Japanese Pearl-Farm, Unknown author, Literary Digest, Vol. 80, No. 14, pp. 27-28 (1924). The pearl farm on the coast of Japan is described.

Mikimoto and the Culture Pearl, D.S. Jordan, Scientific American, Vol. 137, No. 4, pp. 300-302 (1927).  Article not seen.

“Out of Kimono, Into Overalls – the Industrial Transition in Japan”, M. Holland, National Research Council, New York, pp. 12-17 (1927). Pearl culturing is described as the “highest degree of fisheries technology in Japan”. The author visited the Mikimoto pearl farm, and describes the pearl culturing operations.

Kokichi Mikimoto et les Perles de Culture [Kokichi Mikimoto and Cultured Pearls], M-L. Lédé, Revue des Deux Mondes, Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 881-891 (1937).  The author discusses the work of Mikimoto in culturing pearls.

“The Pearl King – The Story of the Fabulous Mikimoto”, R. Eunson, Greenberg, New York, 243 pp. (1955).  This book chronicles the development of cultured pearls in Japan.

“The Cultured Pearl – Jewel of Japan”, N.C. Reese, C.E. Tuttle Company, Tokyo, 107 pp. (1958).  Book not seen.

Cultured Pearls, F. Pough, Lapidary Journal, Vol. 16, No. 11, pp. 1014-1019 and No. 12, pp. 1090-1095; and Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 6-14 and No. 2, pp. 270-277 (1963).  In this four-part article, the author discusses the history and current status of the Japanese cultured pearl industry.

Strukturwandlungen and Standortverlagerungen in der Japanischen Perlzucht [Structural and Locational Changes in the Japanese Pearl Culture Industry], G. Aymans, Erdkunde, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 112-132 (1965).  Article not seen.

Cultured Pearl Farming and Marketing in Japan, R.T. Liddicoat, Lapidary Journal, Vol. 21, No. 5, pp. 662, 664-666 (1967). The author, at the time the Executive Director of GIA, discusses the cultured pearl industry in Japan.  He mentions the testing of pearls by GIA using X-ray methods that began in 1949, and that more than one million pearls had been examined in this way.  He also discusses the development by GIA of a quality appraisal system for pearls based on several key value factors.

The Cultured Pearl – Its History and Development to the Present Day, C.D. George, Lapidary Journal, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 510-517; No. 5, pp. 642-647; and No. 6, pp. 786-791 (1967). This article reviews the cultured pearl industry in Japan.

“The Story of Pearls”, S. Shirai, Japan Publications, Tokyo, 132 pp. (1970).  Book not seen.

Cultured Pearl Farming at Toba, Japan, F. Cawthon, Lapidary Journal, Vol. 31, No. 9, pp. 1910-1922 (1977). The author describes cultured pearl farming at a location in Japan.

From Single Source to Global Free Market: The Transformation of the Cultured Pearl Industry, R. Shor, Gems & Gemology, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 200-226 (2007).  The author reviews the transformation of the industry from domination by Japan to production in other countries.

A History of the Cultured Pearl Industry, K. Nagai, Zoological Science, Vol. 30, No. 10, pp. 783-793 (2013).  The author reviews the development over the last century of the cultured pearl industry in Japan.

Dr James Shigley is a distinguished research fellow at the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, California.