Leave the real pearl hunting to the ama divers, and head to this Tokyo shop to experience extracting your very own gem from a selection of oysters.
Just over 100 years ago, Koichi Mikimoto, nicknamed the Pearl King, took a huge step into perfecting the art of pearl farming, creating an industry that could produce near-perfect cylindrical pearls to adorn the necks and ears of celebrities worldwide. His legacy created an opening for Japan to become the worldwide leader in cultured Akoya pearl production, a position it has enjoyed ever since.
Thanks to Mikimoto’s ingenuity and perseverance, beautiful Akoya pearls are now more obtainable than they have ever been. However, usually we are dependent on pearl farmers doing the dirty work to provide us with these exquisite and lustrous seeds. Now, we can find them ourselves in the heart of Tokyo.
This is the knowledge we were armed with when we headed to Pico-Labo in Taito-ku, where visitors can extract pearls from oysters themselves. We knew what we were going to do, but nothing had prepared us for the nervous titillation we experienced while trying to choose the “right” one. We hesitantly made our choices and were ready to begin.
Each oyster, and thus each pearl, is unique. It’s one of the beautiful things about a product created by nature – pearls come in many different colors, sizes and shapes. Like a Kinder egg – or a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Perfectly round ones are almost impossible to find – only about 5% of pearls produced will be the almost entirely flawless ones that we’re used to seeing in stores.
Even so, we were confident our pearl – round or not – would be beautiful and perfect, because we had chosen it ourselves.
Cautiously, we slid the tip of our knife into the shell’s “hinge,” twisting it gently. We pried the oyster open to reveal … a gooey mess. Armed with a tiny silver-colored shovel we carefully groped around in the hope of finding a lustrous treasure. Suddenly, resistance! Had we struck gold? With some trepidation, we gently applied pressure around the oyster’s insides, when something suddenly caught the light. A pearl! Our pearl! We scooped out our globe and wiped the slimy residue off to reveal a pearl with a rose pink shade. Akoya pearls come in varying shades ranging from rose pink to blue with silver and pink undertones, with the latter being the most rare.
The whole experience starts at ¥1,300, which is a bargain since you could hit the jackpot with a giant, high-quality pearl. If you’re not quite sure what to do with your pearl once you have extracted it, Pico Labo offers a selection of accessory options: put your pearl inside a pendant, drill a hole in it and attach it to a chain necklace, or attach it to a brooch. You can also try extracting two and make earrings out of them, but they will most likely not match in color, shape or size.
If you would like to go on a pearl hunting adventure of your own, or you simply want to buy pearl accessories and would like an extensive selection to choose from, Pico Labo has you covered. The staff speaks some English, and you can reserve an appointment via email or by phone.
For Pico Labo contact details, please check our Concierge listing.