In 1878, Mikimoto helped to arrange and judge an exhibition of pearls in Japan. All around him, he saw misshapen or underdeveloped pearls being sold. As a perfectionist, he was disturbed by the pearl industry's greed and disregard for quality, and his reputation eventually reached as far as Japan's Imperial Court.
Mikimoto learned that Akoya oysters
produced the best pearls. He explored methods of introducing a particle into the flesh of the oyster to stimulate secretions of "nacre" that build up in hundreds of thousands of layers, creating a lustrous pearl. He overcame many failed experiments and challenges of nature, from oyster-eating octopi to a disastrous "red tide" of bacteria that threatened the survival of his oyster beds.
On July 11, 1893, after enormous efforts of research and experimentation, Mikimoto's wife, Ume, hauled a basket of oysters from the sea for inspection. Nestled within the folds of an oyster, a gleaming object caught her eye. A pearl! Her husband's dream had finally become a reality.
Mikimoto had discovered the secret to cultivating beautiful pearls of such quality that they rivaled natural pearls. In 1896, Mikimoto was granted his first patent for cultured pearls. He based his flourishing business on Ojima Island where his first pearls were grown, renaming it Pearl Island.
In the decades to come, Mikimoto continued to advance the science of pearl cultivation and conquer new challenges such as successful cultivation of the remarkable South Sea pearl. Again
overcoming huge obstacles, including typhoons, he turned dream into reality with the cultivation of a large black pearl 10mm in diameter in the deep, warm waters of Okinawa.