Gems From the Sea For Your Yacht Charter
Whether in ropes, rings, or posts, pearls define classic style
Dec. 6, 2005 09:00 PM
YV&C International Yacht Vacations & Charters Magazine reports:
The only gem created by a living animal, pearls have been a sign of classic good taste and beauty for more than 4,000 years. For more than 100 years, Mikimoto has duplicated the natural process, and become the world’s leading producer of cultured pearls. Here, Mikimoto’s Robert Artelt, shares with YV&C readers some of the company’s newest designs, and offers advice on what to look for when purchasing pearl jewelry.
Archipelagoes are often described as a string of pearls set in pristine azure waters. Vermeer’s 17th century painting of a woman wearing a pearl earring inspired a modern-day book and a movie. From Marco Polo and Cleopatra, to Marilyn Monroe and Princess Grace, pearls have been a favorite adornment for thousands of years. Simple and perfect, the opalescent orbs have long been a quintessential sign of impeccable taste in the fashion world, and have been used repeatedly throughout literature as a metaphor to evoke images of beauty and rarity.
Pearls were first documented in China, more than 4,000 years ago. Over the centuries, demand became so strong that entire communities--particularly in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Indian Ocean regions-- subsisted on a pearl economy. Divers risked their lives in the quest for oysters that might contain the elusive gems. Many died in the grueling hunt due not only to the severe water pressure that they had to endure, but also because of attacks by sharks and other sea creatures. Still, no one knew the secret of the formation of these perfect--and sometimes imperfect-- spheres. Why were pearls found in some regions and not others? Why in some craggy oysters and not others?
The answer came in 1893 when Kokichi Mikimoto discovered the ingredient that caused an oyster to produce a pearl: it was an outside particle, an irritant that entered the shell. Mikimoto duplicated this natural process. He introduced a tiny bead of mother-of-pearl (the white substance on the inside of a mussel’s shell) into an oyster, and the oyster reacted by covering the irritant with nacre, the secreted substance that forms the smooth crystalline coating of a pearl. Thus, Mikimoto created the first round cultured pearl, and became a legend, one of the most revered men in Japan’s history. His company began to produce large quantities of pearls in a controlled environment, and an entire industry was launched.
Mikimoto wasn’t satisfied with volume, though. He strove for perfection and is known for once burning all of his creations that he deemed inferior. Today, Mikimoto is still a family-run company, and prides itself on the same quality that led to the destruction of the pearls that did not meet the original Mikimoto’s scrupulous standards. According to Robert Artelt, senior vice president of marketing for Mikimoto America, the company uses only the top 3-5% of the pearls they harvest each year.
As there are so many factors at work in creating a superior pearl, Artelt says Mikimoto carefully monitors weather, water conditions, and other environmental issues that affect the growth of the layers of nacre. Over the years, he says, the company has refined the multi-year cultivation process. Today, the oysters are grown in a controlled environment until they are placed in Ago Bay in Japan to grow to maturity. After about 1-1/2 years, they are implanted with a “bead” that starts the process of growing a pearl. The oyster is then returned to the bay and left to grow the pearl for 2-3 more years.