Mikimoto Kōkichi (January 25, 1858 – September 21, 1954) was a Japanese entrepreneur who is credited with creating the first cultured pearl and subsequently starting the pearl industry with the establishment of his luxury pearl company Mikimoto.
His company was awarded patents for pearl cultivation and in 1985 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the patent system he was selected as one of Japan’s top 10 inventors. He was inducted into the house of peers by imperial decree and posthumously awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure. The Mikimoto company was ranked as one of the worlds most luxury brands by WWD and Mikimoto Kokichi was considered one of the best Japanese financial leaders of the 20th century by Nihon Keizai Shimbun. He is also known as the founder of Mikimoto Pharmaceuticals, a company specialising in beauty products containing pearl calcium. Mikimoto Pearl Island is named after him.
In 1888, Mikimoto obtained a loan to start his first pearl oyster farm at the Shinmei inlet on Ago Bay in Mie prefecture with his wife and partner Ume. On 11 July 1893, after many failures and near bankruptcy, he was able to create the hemispherical cultured pearls. He introduced these mabes at a marine products exposition in Norway in 1897 and began an export business. However, it took him another 12 years to create completely spherical pearls that were indistinguishable from the highest quality natural ones, and commercially viable harvests were not obtained until the 1920s.
The new technology enabled Japan’s cultured pearl industry to quickly expand after 1916; by 1935 there were 350 pearl farms in Japan producing 10 million cultured pearls annually.