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Unveiling the Mysteries of Conch Pearls: Nature's Hidden Gems

Pearls are a fantastic option for anyone looking for elegant, classic jewelry. However, these versatile organic gemstones offer options far beyond the lustrous white hue one might typically think of. From metallic-tinted Tahitian pearls to warm, golden South Sea pearls, the different types of pearls are endless.

One of the rarest kinds of pearl in the world is the Conch pearl, which has unique origins and is treasured for its pink pearls. Read on for a glimpse of what makes the natural Conch pearl so unique.

What are Conch Pearls?

Conch pearls are different from the traditional pearl variety in a few ways. The most notable is where these rare gems form. While most other pearls grow inside the lips of oysters, conch pearls grow on a completely different creature known as the Queen conch mollusc.
You may already be familiar with the look of a conch shell, but the creature who lives inside will surprise you! These sea snails can live up to 30 years, and grow over a foot long.
Queen Conch. 2014. Source.
Queen Conch. 2014. Source.

Conch pearls are calcareous concretions, and lack a nacreous layer, which is what gives oyster pearls their iridescence. Instead of having a nacreous layer, conch pearls have a wavy, flame-like structure with a smooth surface. The color of a natural conch pearl can range from white to pink, also occurring in brown and orange tones. Their variety of colors and gem-quality conch pearls complement many different jewelry styles.


How are Conch Pearls Made?

Most pearls grown today are cultured, meaning humans encourage the growth of pearls in oysters through various means, including planting small beads of material inside oysters and providing safe environments for the pearls to mature. This cultured pearl process is tedious and large pearls can take years, or even decades to form.
However, the process of finding natural pearls is far more difficult. Traditionally, divers needed to search the ocean for oysters, a task of growing difficulty due to diminishing oyster beds. On top of this already tedious process, finding a conch pearl is all the more difficult.
A cultured conch pearl does not exist; they can only form naturally, making them difficult to source even under the best conditions. Although scientists have attempted to produce conch pearls in laboratories, their experiments have yet to produce pearls suitable for the commercial market.
A queen conch, or strombus gigas, can be found in the warm, tropical waters throughout the Caribbean, where it lives in beds of seagrass. When a small irritant gets stuck within a Queen conch, a pearl may form, although this process is still considered very rare and mysterious. Because of the curved conch shell, it’s much less likely that an irritant would enter the shell in comparison to other mollusks, which explains why this rare pearl variety is so hard to find.
The irritant could be any small item, but is often a piece of shell. Layers of fibrous crystals will cover the irritant, forming a conch pearl. The shape of the irritant and placement within the shell of the Queen conch mollusk can affect the size and shape of the pearl that forms, with few being perfectly rounded.

Myths and Stories Behind the Queen Conch Pearl

Conch pearls and shells have been treasured for centuries. Collectors of antique jewelry may come across conch pearls in Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewelry pieces. Conch shells are often believed to hold mystic powers, and have been incorporated into religious ceremonies by many different groups, including the Incas.
Tibetan Silver Shankah With Dragon. Late 19th/Early 20th Century. M.S. Rau.
Tibetan Silver Shankah With Dragon. Late 19th/Early 20th Century. M.S. Rau.

This Tibetan “shankah” is a musical instrument made from a conch shell, and is used for ritual worship in Buddhism and Hinduism. This silver-adorned shell can be played like a trumpet, and was created using a conch shell from a species native to the Indian Ocean. Within Hindu mythology, the conch shell is associated with the god Vishnu, and the sound produced from a conch shell can bring good fortune. While some shankah are collected as antiques, they are also still used in religious ceremonies today.


Why are Conch Pearls so Rare?

Conch pearls are incredibly rare due to how they form and the rarity of the Queen conch itself. Fishermen harvest Queen conches for meat, and pearls are only a secondary product. Pearls are only found when the conch meat is removed from the shell. There are many possible uses for conch meat, including chowders and fritters.
Overfishing has caused significant harm to the populations of Queen conches, and their fishing is limited in most countries today, further restricting the discovery of any new conch pearls.
In September of 2022, NOAA proposed a rule to list the queen conch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. While Queen conches used to live abundantly off the coast of Florida, today they are rarely found and are now illegal to catch in the United States.
Even when fishermen are allowed to harvest a Queen conch in the wild, only one in every 10,000 conches will have a pearl inside. Within this one in 10,000 chance, even fewer pearls are truly gem quality and suitable for use in conch pearl jewelry.
Conch pearls can range in color and size, with bright pink, near-round or oval specimens being the most valuable. These naturally forming pearls tend to be relatively small due to the constraints of their shells, and rarely exceed 10 carats.
Conch Pearl & Diamond Necklace. M.S. Rau.
Conch Pearl & Diamond Necklace. M.S. Rau.
This conch pearl necklace demonstrates the most desirable hue for these rare colored gems. Their warm blush tone comes from the color on the inside of the Queen conch’s lip, where the pearls form.
Although the Queen conch pearl is increasingly difficult to find, you can still find these white and pink pearl gems to add to your collection. Those looking for a unique type of pearl jewelry will enjoy the rarity and mysterious nature of the conch pearl.
If you’re intrigued by rare pearls and want to learn more, M.S. Rau’s pearl's collectors guide explains the many types of pearls available to jewelry enthusiasts.


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