What is the big deal about Mikimoto? Surely you have heard his name. In the pearl business buyers love to throw around the Mikimoto name… especially by saying things like, “my Mikimoto’s” Other people have no clue …”miki-what?” So, I am here to tell you the big deal with Mikimoto!
What is in a Name?
Some people will always refer to their copy machine as a Xerox. Why? It is the OLDEST name in copy machines. So, even if it is not a Xerox by brand name… it is a xerox machine! We search for something by googling even if we don’t always use Google! Do you catch my drift? Old or popular names can set the standard. And the oldest name in cultured pearls is Mikimoto.
Picture it, historically people had experienced with manipulating oysters to produce pearls. They even have record of this from China many years before the common era. Why not? Pretty much everyone has agreed that pearls are worthy of their high value and therefore worth reproducing. If only people could figure out a consistent way to do it!
It was Mikimoto Kokichi who really put it all out there to actually start a cultured pearl farm in 1888. The son of a noodle maker, he and his wife were entrepreneurs, fabulous marketers and maybe just a little bit socialist. Okay, I made that last part up! But, Mikimoto did believe that all women should own a strand of pearls. Pearls for the people! And although we usually do nether muchOther scientists and entrepreneurs were working on culturing pearls at the time but he did the work and bought the patents from the work of other scientists. By 1893 he had his first cultured pearl. By the early 1900s he was actually able to culture a round cultured pearl. And things really took off from there.
Leonard Rosenthal wrote an autobiography titled, The Pearl Hunter. As a pearl seller in France in the early 1900s he was wowed by the first cultured pearls he encountered. But, what a shock to his business! Imagine, up until the point that Mikimoto started culturing gem quality pearls, the only pearls available in the market were natural pearls. A natural pearl is a pearl spontaneously produced by nature. They are rarer and therefore they are a lot more expensive than their cultured pearl counterparts. So, when cultured pearl entered the scene they were gorgeous pearls and they were a lot cheaper and usually rounder than natural pearls. (In general, I generally think of cultured pearls more predictable than natural pearls). The natural pearl industry collapsed!
So, back to Mikimoto. Another big deal about Mikomoto is that he is THE guy behind today’s phenomena of cultured pearls. What else? He caused major waves in the pearl industry. First, he angered a lot of people. Picture it, natural pearls were being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Remember The Great Gatsby? Fitzgerald writes, “he bought her a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.” This was 1919 and Tom gave Daisy a strand of pearls on their wedding night. Guess what? These were not cultured pearls! Those pearls, which would be the equivalent of $4.7M by today’s standards, were natural pearls. And that isn’t fictional fabrication. Natural pearls were being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the early 1900s.
So, what happened to the eponymous Mikimoto after he essentially killed the natural pearl industry? He was sued! That’s right! He showed up on the pearl scene with his cultured pearls and those dealers of natural pearls took him to court. How appalling that these pearls were upsetting their business! And that is how we have the term “cultured pearl.” He was forced to give his pearls a name that distinguished them from natural pearls, also simply known as “pearls”. So, he was ordered to call them “cultured pearls.”
Nowadays, people use it as a badge of honor to guarantee that pearls are not fake. I get asked all the time, “Are these cultured pearls?” What people are really asking is, are these real or fake? But, originally, the term was meant to indicate that the pearls were not natural pearls. So a cultured pearl, among some circles, were considered a bad thing, not a good thing!
Goodbye Pearl Divers
What else did Mikimoto do? He is a big deal because he put a whole lot of pearl divers out of business. The Persian Gulf was known for their natural pearls and divers were diving consistently for pearls. When cultured pearls flooded the market, the demand for natural pearls fell drastically and many people in the natural pearl industry lost their means and livelihood. For one, the divers in the Persian Gulf lost their jobs.
So, who has Mikimoto pearls? Well, lots of people from the WWII generation. After the second world war when the Allied forces occupied Japan, they feared an illegal pearl trade. So, pearls sales were discouraged within Japan. Instead, the Japanese sold pearls in military stores frequented by Allied troops. See more on my post: Why does your grandmother have graduated pearls?
Because Mikimoto has the name recognition, many people are drawn to the Mikimoto pearls. I remember asking my first pearl professor at the Gemological Institute of America why Mikimoto pearls are so expensive and she said, simply, “the name.”
In the 1980s, I traveled to Japan with my family and my Dad bought my first strand of pearls. My father, of course, thought that he needed to buy Mikimoto’s. But, the Japanese people assured him there are many gorgeous pearls that do not have the Mikimoto name or signature clasp. I have since thought about that transaction. Would I love my pearls more if they were from Mikimoto? Not likely. Would they be considered more valuable now if they bore the Mikimoto name? Possibly! Names matter to many people, especially in the resellers market.
Here is another thing to consider. Would I be able to tell if you had Mikimoto pearls if you did not have the signature clasp on your necklace? Probably not. Mikimoto is a movement, it is a name, it is a high quality pearl. it is not necessarily the best quality name although some might argue that point with me. The only reason I say it is not the best is that Mikimoto is a brand name, and one that has grown and grown varied.
I had an Australian customer reach out to The Pearl Girls about her Mikimotos. Her mother had purchased a strand many years prior and had the signature clasp removed. She had the paperwork from Mikimoto but the pearls did not hold the same value without the clasp. When she contacted the Mikimoto company they quoted her AU$750 to buy a clasp and have it added to her necklace. She wanted to know if it was worth it. I advised her to go for it. The value of Mikimoto is in the name. She wanted the name so she had to pay for the clasp.
I also wonder if the reverse is possible. When I see lots of Mikimotos on sale on eBay, I wonder if anyone ever copies those clasps and adds them to strands of pearls. I have traveled extensively through China and I have seen Tiffany jewelry sold on the street for $5-$10, box included. So, it doesn’t seem that far off to have knock off Mikimotos.
Nowadays, Mikimoto no longer have their own pearl farms. Instead, Mikimoto buys beautiful pearls from other pearl farms. Mikimoto also has quite a different variety of pearls under various subsets of the name Mikimoto. This is what I mean by seeing the Mikimoto brand grow and grow varied. The Pearl Girls repair department has restrung many of these pearls and they range from amazingly beautiful to gorgeously fake. So, to say that Mikimoto pearls are the very best does not always feel true.
But it would be impossible to imagine a pearl industry without Mikimoto. Although Mikimoto, the man, died in 1954, his brand name lives on. Mikimoto will always carry the legacy as the founder of our modern-day cultured pearls. Good or bad, expensive or overpriced, there are many reasons and perspectives on why Mikimoto was, and remains to be, a big deal.
If you have Mikimotos, wear them with pride!
I am a modern day treasure hunter who travels the world for gorgeous pearls and amazing adventures. I own a pearl jewelry and jewelry repair business, ThePearlGirls.com, with a cute retail store in Athens, GA. I also have a Pearl Travel business and travel blog at TheWorldofPearl.com.
16 Replies to “What is the big deal about Mikimoto?”
THANK YOU FOR TELLING THE MIKIMOTO STORY I WAS BUYING A LOT OF BAD PEARLS SO NOW I BUY MIKIMOTO YOU JUST CAN’T GO WRONG. THANK YOU DON
Thanks for the comment, Donald! In my mind there are no “bad” pearls. The only time things get bad is when you think you are getting one thing and you get something totally different. There is nothing worse that being misinformed! But there is beauty in so many types of pearls! Best, India
I have a question – I inherited a long strand of mikimoto pearls. someone suggested restringing it for sale into a double or triple strand (a customer of his wanted multiple strands of pearls) should i leave them as is, due to their value as mikimoto and not restring. (and just hold onto rather than sell) Not sure what to do but seemed like it might be wrong to transform it if mikimoto is valuable.
You know Deborah, I think this one is up to you! Pearls actually retain their value when you restring them. The reason is, dirt and grime can get in the string of the pearls and this can, over time, break down the nacre of your pearls.So, not stringing your pearls will not make them more valuable in the long term.
Then, some thoughts about branding… if you drop $2000 on Louis Vuitton bag but cut off the LV label, what is the value of the bag? This gets into a story about branding. Are there pearls on the market as beautiful and as valuable as Mikimoto pearls? Of course! When my family traveled to Japan in the early 1980s and my Dad bought me my first strand of pearls, he decided not to buy Mikimoto pearls. He found beautiful pearls that cost less because they were not associated with the Mikimoto brand name. So, if you decide to make a multiple strand necklace from your Mikimoto pearls, you would have to remove the single strand Mikimoto clasp. And that one is up to you. Would you feel as good knowing you have a $2000 Louis Vuitton purse even if no one else knew it. You know what I mean? The clasp tells others they are Mikimoto pearls. Running our large pearl restringing and repair department, I have seen lots of pearls! And I cannot look at a strand of pearls and say, “Hey, those are Mikimotos.” Right? Unless our customer tells us they are Mikimotos! All pearls are beautiful. It is impossible to discern a brand of pearls just by looking at the pearls.
I even went to a pearl supplier in Australia (who deals in South Sea Pearls) and he said, “Nice Mikimotos,” about my Pearl Girls necklace. He couldn’t tell and those types of pearls were not his specialty.
I know I am going on and on here but it truly comes down to what works best for you. I am not a huge fan of holding onto something just because they feel valuable. I went through a phase where I bought tons and tons of expensive shoes which were totally impractical and impossible to wear. I kept those shoes in my closet for years because I could not bear to part with something so valuable. Yet, they did not bring me any joy or any use. It was kind of nice when I passed them on to someone who could enjoy them!
I say, do what you want with your Mikimoto pearls! If you want to keep them for the sentimental value since you inherited them, go for it. If you want tor restring them for your own use, do it. Restring and sell them to a customer? Awesome! Do what feels best to you. I wouldn’t be afraid to transform them over what feels like some “value” you should place on them.
I truly love, love, love The Pearl Girls pearls. I love our business, I love the places I go to get our pearls and I love all the people involved. The Pearl Girls pearls cost less than Mikimoto pearls and yet, if someone gave me a strand of Mikimoto pearls, I would still wear The Pearl Girls pearls. That is where my heart is.
I say follow your heart!
All the best to you, Deborah!
Hi India. Loved reading your article about Mikimoto. I am sooo lucky as I have inherited my Mum’s pearls, her necklace, her ear rings, her sapphire and pearl ring and her broach. They were bought in Hong Kong in1968. They are in their original boxes and come with the purchase certificates for duty payable perhaps, when leaving the country. Dad was working in HK for 3 years and they were bought at Lane Crawfords, an expensive shop! Also there was a little booklet all about Mikimoto’s process of his pearls during the years. I notice I have a different clasp on my pearls just an oval with I think, a pearl missing in the middle. Mum’s ear rings I am sorry to say are not “pea” shaped any more, as I think the acid in her ears eroded them as she always wore them. Could be. I also have a pink pearl on a gold chain, sent to me by my Chinese friend from HK in 1979, the year that they introduced the pink pearl I think. Regards Valerie.
How awesome, Valerie! Thanks for sharing this with me! I tell you, the stories about pearls are what I truly love! How wonderful to have your Mom’s pearls and to know they meant so much to her! And a 1979 pink pearl.. how cool! I cant tell you how much I appreciate you reaching out! It is truly amazing to hear these stories from you.
All the best, Pearl Girl!
In regard to restringing Mikimoto pearls. I was told to take them to a official Mikimoto dealer to have them restrung to a different size or changed to retain the Mikimoto name and value.
That is interesting, Laurra, I have never heard that before! It is hard to imagine that restringing pearls would decrease their value… or devalue them in any way. But, I am all for sticking with who you are most comfortable with! We restring Mikimotos all the time but if you feel more comfortable going with an authorized Mikimoto dealer, I would stick with them! Thanks so much for reaching out!
I learned a lot about Mikimoto pearls. Thank you.
Thank you, Ali! Best, India
I have triple strand Mikimoto pearl from my mother that was given to her by my father in or around 1962. Do you know the value? They are in the original box. Since they are so old I feel they need to be restrung but i am not doing anything yet. Any information you can give me would be helpful.
Pearl appraisal is something I steer clear of! I love the sentimental value of pearls and knowing your mother received these pearls from her Dad makes them far more valuable in my eyes!
People have asked me about Mikimotos before and, from the little bit of research I have done, the resale value seems to vary greatly. Some people seem to be reselling their pearls for the big bucks, others for not so much.
I do encourage you to reknot your pearls. They contribute to the longevity of the pearls and they look so amazing when they are reknotted!
Let me know if I can help!
My father brought back a necklace, a brooch , earrings and a ring to my mother in 1965. All Mikimoto. My mom deceased in April 2018? How can I get these appraised? They are rare. Any Advice???
Mary in Houston , Texas
Hi Mary! Thanks for reaching out. Your mother’s pearls sound lovely! I would go directly to the source. Try reaching out to the Mikimoto store in New York. Good luck! Best, India
How can I tell if a opera length strand of pearls are in fact Mikimotos since opera length pearls do not have a clasp?
Hi Janet! That is a great question. Some newer Mikimotos will have a little M emblem on them. But if you are trying to authenticate Mikimotos (with or without any markings), I would reach out to their store in New York and ask them to help. You might be able to send them to them for authentication! Good luck! Best, India