A history of the cultured pearl industry

Zoolog Sci. 2013 Oct;30(10):783-93. doi: 10.2108/zsj.30.783.


During the 18th and 19th centuries, studies of how pearls are formed were conducted mainly in Europe. The subsequent pearl culturing experiments conducted worldwide in the early 20th century, however, failed to develop into a pearl industry. In Japan, however, Kokichi Mikimoto succeeded in culturing blister pearls in 1893 under the guidance of Kakichi Mitsukuri, a professor at Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo) and the first director of the Misaki Marine Biological Station, Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo. This success and subsequent developments laid the foundation for the pearl farming industry, developed new demand for cultured pearls in the European jewelry market, and initiated the full-scale industrialization of pearl culturing. In addition, research at the Misaki Marine Biological Station resulted in noteworthy advances in the scientific study of pearl formation. Today, pearls are cultured worldwide, utilizing a variety of pearl oysters. The pearl farming industry, with its unique origins in Japan, has grown into a global industry. Recently, the introduction of genome analysis has allowed cultured pearl research to make rapid progress worldwide in such areas as the dynamics of mother-of-pearl layer formation and biomineralization. This signals another new era in the study of pearls.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquaculture / history*
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Japan
  • Jewelry / history*
  • Pinctada / genetics
  • Pinctada / physiology*