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Buying Guide for a Mikimoto Pearl Necklace

The highest quality cultured pearl necklaces are those produced and created by Mikimoto. These pearls are known for their unparalleled beauty and brilliance. It is said that once you wear Mikimoto pearls, any other kind of pearl will seem second-rate. Mikimoto pearls are so refined in quality that its fans include the royal families of Britain and Japan, Marilyn Monroe and Monaco’s Princess Grace.

Here are some information on what Mikimoto cultured pearls are, where they came from and how to buy them.

How pearls are formed
A pearl is the result of an oyster or mollusks’ reaction to an irritant that invades its shell. To try to protect itself, the mollusk secretes a crystalline substance called nacre which builds up in layers upon layers, surrounding the irritant. When this happens, a pearl is born.

Pearls have been cultured for centuries not just in Japan, but in other countries as well. Much of the products result to semispherical pearls, also called mabe pearls from the oyster that grew them, and not in the more coveted spherical pearls. It was Kokichi Mikimoto who developed a special technique to induce oysters to create a round pearl.

The man behind the name
Cultured pearls as we know them, owe a lot to Kokichi Mikimoto, the man who perfected the pearl culturing method that is still used today. Contrary to popular belief, he did not invent the industry although he did play a very significant role in advancing the techniques which contributed to the improvement in cultured pearl quality.

Mikimoto, the son of a noodle restaurant owner, was born in 1885 in Toba City, Japan. He was first introduced to pearls when he started raising oysters. Around this time, Japan was already trading pearls with other countries and pearl oysters were in danger of becoming over-harvested. Mikimoto decided to concentrate on experiments in seeding oysters and producing pearls.

The first endeavors were failures. Mikimoto and his colleagues repeatedly encountered disappointing results, due in part to uncontrollable factors like water temperature and red tide. But this did nothing to dissuade Mikimoto from his dream.

His efforts paid off eventually. On July 11, 1893, with his wife Ume, he discovered a beautiful pearl in one of his oysters. He never looked back since. By the time he died in 1954, the highly honored Mikimoto had successfully advocated and promoted cultured pearls and opened markets all over the world. Today, his name is synonymous to the highest quality cultured pearls.

Buying your Mikimoto pearl necklace
Pearl necklaces come in several lengths. From the shortest to the longest, they are: collar (10”-13”), choker (14”-16”), princess (18”-20”), matinee (20”-24”), opera (28”-34”) and rope (37” and longer). The length of the pearl necklace will depend on the woman’s age, body composition and neck size, although an 18 to 24-inch pearl necklace is a good length for anyone. Generally speaking, the longer the necklace, the more it ‘elongates’ the neck.

The mark of “M”
Every jewelry created by Mikimoto including pearl necklaces, has an “M” stamped on its setting. This is a guarantee of quality. However, in some cases, the mark of “M” will only guarantee that the setting is genuine and not the pearls, which can be replaced and restrung.

A caveat: there is a black market for Mikimoto clasps, where original Mikimoto clasps are used for cheaper or imitation-quality pearls. Beware also of ‘closeout’ Mikimoto sales, even if they come in ‘new’ 18k gold.

The best way to distinguish a true high-quality Mikimoto pearl from other pearls is to look for a unique road map or line pattern on the surface of the pearls under a 10x magnifying lens. Experienced jewelers can recognize this. On your own, you will want to find genuine Mikimoto pearls to compare with your intended purchase. Once you see the difference, true Mikimoto pearls are easily recognizable.

You might also encounter pearl necklaces that are labeled ‘Mikimoto quality’. This is misleading. These are not pearls produced under the patented Mikimoto process. True Mikimoto pearl necklaces are those produced under stringent conditions in Ise in Honshu, Japan.

Akoya vs. Mikimoto
Another fine quality pearl is akoya pearls, although this is a general term used to refer to saltwater pearls. These are not Mikimoto pearls and they don’t cost the same.

Grading method
Mikimoto pearls are rated using four grades, with AAA being the highest. There are 4 sub-grades starting with AAA1. Highest-grade pearls are those with the best luster and reflective quality, almost mirror-like, while lower-grade pearls are those with reasonably clear reflection.

When buying your Mikimoto pearl necklace, be sure to ask for grading certificates. This is not only good for insurance, but it is also a guarantee that what you are paying for is a true Mikimoto pearl necklace.

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