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Cultivation of Pearls

2006-07-13 21:42

  In the year 1860, in the village of Japan, a boy was born whose name was to be known through out the world. His name was Kokichi Mikimoto. He belonged to a very poor family, being the eldest of nine children he had to work hard from time he was quiet small. He went through the streets selling vegetables from a little cart, or pounded grain on a stone mortar in the back part of his father‘s shop. He had no time to go to school in day but at night, he attended a private school where he was taught writing.

  At the age of sixteen, Kokichi proved that he had inherited a good eye for business from his father. A British fleet cast anchor near his home, and he bought up all the fresh eggs in town and sold them to the sailors at a good profit. He held his monopoly, and was soon established in business. Later he entered politics and was elected to the town council, and later he presented himself for Parliament.

  Kokichi had an urge for invention and he possessed that infinite patience that is the gift of so many Japanese. He was willing to make sacrifice to gain his ends. He often watched pearl divers descend to the bottom of the sea for the oyster shells that may contain pearls. Sometimes they would go down over a hundred feet, holding their breath the whole time, and come back up with bloated faces, blood shot eyes, half deaf and blind, and almost choked. The work was so hard that they would be old at thirty. It came to be a saying that every pearl in a necklace cost a life. Kokichi often saw the luckless fellows emerge with blood flowing from their noses and mouths.

  At that time Kokichi happened to attend a lecture in Tokyo in which an eminent scientist spoke of the possibility of cultivating pearls by promoting their growth in oyster shells. Inspired by the scientist he decided to give his life to such a task. He sold out his business and went on a little island in the Bay of Ago. A pearl is formed in an oyster shell, first by a foreign body, like a grain of sand, accidentally getting into the shell between the two parts of the shell and being deposited near some gland that send out a pearl-colored fluid. The grain of sand irritates the tender skin of oyster, and the fluid is sent out to cover up its rough edges, harden there, and thus make it round so it will not hurt. But because the little particle does not belong there, the oyster keeps on covering the particle with this fluid year after year making it round and smoothening its edges. The hardening of each layer of this pearl substance builds up the pearl larger and larger, with more or less perfection of color and roundness. These are the pearls, which divers find, and which become the beautiful stones that are made into jewellery. But rarely does an oyster let a foreign body get in between its valves like that.

  Mikimoto‘s plan was to find the oysters, open shells, “Plant” a grain of sand in the right place in each, and then take care of them till the pearls would “grow”。 But it was not as easy as it sounds. For seven years this man worked hard patiently before he produced his first pearl. But it was dull in color, not well rounded and had no value.

  For twenty years more he worked and experimented and studied before he managed to bring forth a perfect pearl from his trial oyster beds. Then in triumph he exhibited a magnificent specimen- smooth, round, white, polished. He had won his long struggle. Disease, storms and unexpected accidents had again and again destroyed years of efforts, but he toiled on undaunted till he succeeded.

  Here is the way he planted the pearls. The tiny oyster larvae, which float near the seashore in summers, are placed in wire crates and planted in the sea till they are three years old. When their shell are hard-enough, a little piece of rounded mother-of-pearl, the pearl like lining of a shell, is put inside near the glands though a hole made in the shell. The wounded infected, and then the treated oysters are suspended in the crates from the rafts and thus left to grow in the water for seven years longer. All this time they must be tended with extreme care. They must be shielded from cold currents and at regular intervals the shells must be carefully brushed. Mikimoto employees, thousands of girls from his native village, whom he trains for this operations.

  Here the troubles of Mikmoto were not ended, he grew pearls in this artificial way as perfect as the natural ones which divers discovered. The prices of the pearl went down when he put his pearls in the market. And pearl merchants to protect themselves, proclaimed his pearls false. But scientific investigations have proved that his pearls are no different from the natural ones. Yet jewellers still refuse to acknowledge that the cultured pearls are as good as others. They have been so successful in convincing the buyers of pearl jewellery that though the price of the natural pearls has fallen 4/5th since Mikimoto‘s discovery, they are still worth ten times as much on the market as the cultured ones. They say it takes ten years to make a real pearl and only seven years to make an imitation one.

  More than five million oysters are planted by Kokichi ‘s pearl company every year. Never ending studies are made to make their quality better and better. It is a great industry, having branches in all countries and all due to the untiring patience and supreme sacrifice of one man.

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