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Cultured Pearls – the beginning

The Pearls formed by this miraculous process so entranced man,that just in the same way he tried Alchemy to create gold, he sought to find a way to induce Molluscs to produce pearls on demand.

The name given to the process of inducing molluscs to produce pearls is Culturing or Perliculture-hence Cultured Pearls.

It is said that the first rudimentary pearl culturing took place in China as early as the thirteenth century and involved Buddhist Monks inserting carved images of the Buddha into the shell of freshwater mussels.

At the end of the nineteenth century Kokichi Mikimoto, Tatsuhei Mise and Tokichi Nishikawa independently started experimenting with ways of cajoling native Japanese Akoya oysters into producing fine, lustrous and very saleable pearls.

After many years of setbacks.enhancement and developments, the first fully round Cultured Pearls hit the market commercially in the early 1920’s-and boy did they make a splash! The basic process, developed through a series of patents and eventual amalgamation of techniques by Mikimoto, originally used wild oysters fished from waters around the Ise penisular by female Ama divers.

The Ama would risk the Shark infested waters; free-diving to retrieve the Shells.On returning to the surface the women,traditionally clad in white,would deposit them in floating circular wooden tubs attached to their ankles by a rope.

Akoya Oysters awaiting grafting The Ama were used for collecting wild oyster until the early 1960’s.Thereafter baby oysters-known as Spat, were bred in glass tanks in laboratories specifically for Pearl Culturing. When the Spat are large enough to survive in the wild they are transferred into baskets suspended by rafts in the culturing waters until reaching maturity at about 2 years old.

Once considered ready,the oysters are collected and the shells carefully pegged open.Next a bead nucleus together with a small piece of mantle tissue-or graft, from the edge of a donor oyster is introduced via a small incision into the reproductive area. This is carried out by a highly skilled technician known as a “Grafter” who carries out the process using antiseptic conditions. The inclusion of the graft tissue is vital and the key to the culturing process.

The shells are then carefully closed and the oyster returned to the sea. Through experimentation, the nucleus found to give the best result was a bead produced from the shell of the Pig Toe mussel, native to the Mississippi River.