Pearls of Wisdom from Epcot's Japan

Step into the ever busy Mitsukoshi Department Store in Japan at Epcot. You’ll see  a variety of goods from the land of the rising sun but the greatest excitement usually gathers around the pearl display where guests choose their own pearl from a shell. You can’t talk about pearls without talking about Mikimoto pearls. What’s the story underneath the shell?

Mikimoto Kōkichi was born in 1853, the son of a noodle shop owner. As he grew up, the family fell on hard times, with his father falling ill. At the early age of 11, Mikimoto had to grow up fast, selling vegetables on the street and trying to seek his own fortune. His timing was fortunate. the doors of international trade began to open to Japan in the 1850‘s after years of being closed to foreign influence. In trying to make do, he started working with other cultures in an effort to find work and create new opportunities.

Mikimoto Kōkichi

Fascinated by the pearl divers from the seaside village of his youth, he in time become acquainted with pearl harvesting. In time his expertise allowed him to see what was really going on in the marketplace. Beyond any regard for quality, there was greed in the industry resulting in misshapen or underdeveloped pearls to be sold.

After years of curious experimenting, he obtained a loan in 1888 to start his first pearl farm with his wife and partner Ume. He explored the idea of placing a particle into the flesh of the oyser to stimulate secretions of “nacre that build up in hundreds of thousands of layers, ultimately resulting in a beautiful pearl. He labored years to perfect the process, which was interrupted by nature itself, from oyster-eating ctopi to a disastrous “red tide” of bacteria that threatened the survival of the oyster beds.

Early Mikimoto building in Tokyo

In 1893, after many failures and near bankruptcy, the first cultivated pearl was obtained. It took another 12 years to create completely spherical pearls that were indistinguishable from ones grown naturally. In 1899 the first Mikimoto pearl shop was opened in the fashionable Ginza district of Tokyo. In time his reputation eventually reached as far as Japan’s Imperial Court. The rest is history as stores soon followed in London, Paris, and esewhere.

The key to any consistent success revolves around processes that help maintain high standards of quality. Mikimoto’s commitment, tenacity, and attention to detail led to a process template everyone in his shop could use to ensure the oysters produced a higher quality pearl–in a far more efficient, and predictable manner. Today, only the top 3-5% of all cultured pearls harvested meet the strict grading requirements of Mikimoto pears. And those must have a heavy nacre, high luster, and an ideal spherical shape.

Ask Yourself:

* What standards of excellence do you have in place?

* What sacrifice(s) are you willing to take to create that excellence?

* How do you ensure that excellence occurs consistently?