Lapping green waters fringe the Kujukushima Islands off the coast of Sasebo in Nagasaki. Fields of pearl oysters sleep just beneath their surface. The shell beds are farmed by Tasaki, the Japanese pearl- and diamond- design house that has been harvesting the rare, brown-lipped pearl oyster here since the 1970s. The Akoya, a small white pearl variety with an almost-luminescent lustre, is Tasaki’s speciality.
The pearl farm, where around one million oysters are cultivated every year, is one of three production hubs that form the Tasaki business. The jewellery house also operates a design and production studio in Kobe, and has a flagship, five-storey boutique in Ginza, Tokyo. This year, Tasaki ventured beyond its native Japan, opening a boutique on New Bond Street, London, and at The Ritz, Paris.
Tasaki’s annual pearl cultivation process has humble beginnings. In the murky heat between April and November, in a community of rustic, wooden workshops in Nagasaki, a tight-knit team of skilled workers sits at wooden benches, using hypodermic needles to insert nacre nuclei one by one – at a rate of around 800 per day – into live oysters, imported from the Mississippi River. The US variety is prized in Japanese pearl cultivation for its weight, which produces a thicker mother-of-pearl lining. The determining quality of any pearl is lustre; if it’s perfect, you should be able to see your reflection in it.
The molluscs are put to sleep while the craftsmen insert fragments of donor mantle and a nacre nuclei. The mantle produces a response to the nuclei, and the oyster is compelled to wrap the ‘irritant’ in layer upon layer of nacre until a smooth, lustrous round is formed. The process draws on thepioneering work of Japan’s Kokichi Mikimoto, who introduced cultured pearls to the world in the late 19th century.
‘Each shell behaves in its own way, like a human,’ the farm’s senior advisor, Masato Yamashita, tells me, as he hoists a basket of oysters fresh from the sea. ‘There are lazy oysters,’ he says, shucking a shell, ‘and there are sensitive ones – and the latter produce more nacre. The thicker the nacre, the shinier the pearl.’
Read more about the Tasaki’s pearl harvesters and their pursuit of a perfectly lustrous cultivated crop on the Wallpaper.com website HERE