Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Conch Pearl May No Longer Be a Rare Gemstone

By on Thursday, April 22, 2010 11 Comments

Marine Biology
Part 2 of 2
Conch (pronounced konk) pearls are extremely rare. They are technically not pearls as they do not form from nacreous layers. They form very rarely in marine snails called Estrombus gigas or Queen conch - just 1 in 10,000 conchs. These creatures live in the Caribbean and are usually caught for food. The porcelain like pearls range in color from creamy white to yellow, brown and  gorgeous pinks with a distinctive wavy play of color called "flame structure". Only 1 in 100 is gemstone grade. They are also rarely round and are delicate as the colors can fade with time and exposure to sunlight.
Top jewelers have featured conch pearls in their designs as shown in the picture above. Conch pearls are totally out of our reach unless you have plenty of money like Brad Pitt who gave a conch pearl to his then wife, Jennifer Aniston.  As the dwindling population of Queen conch is threatened with overfishing and pollution, there are restrictions on harvesting which in turn make conch pearls even rarer and dearer.

Attempts to culture conch pearls in the past were unsuccessful for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the conch is highly sensitive to traditional pearl seeding methods. Its complex shell structure also made it difficult to retrieve pearls without killing the creature.  But thanks to scientists at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, a way to culture conch pearls has been developed.

The scientists said, "Perhaps the most significant outcome from our research is that the technique we have developed does not require sacrificing the conch in the process. The 100 percent survival rate of queen conch after seeding -- and the fact that it will produce another pearl after the first pearl is harvested -- will make this culturing process more efficient and environmentally sustainable for commercial application."

So if commercial application of this discovery were to take place, then we will be able to incorporate conch pearls in our designs some day. This achievement is significant and is perhaps comparable to that of the Japanese cultured pearl technique over 100 years ago. The high prices of natural pearls tumbled by about 1931 after Japanese cultured pearls entered the market.

If you like my bejeweled mini-biographies, check out The Man Who Loved Pearls. This is the sometimes moving story of Kokichi Mikimoto whose lifelong dedication ensured you and I can afford pearls today.
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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  1. I own two conche shells, but never heard of them producing pearls. How interesting!

  2. Ditto-did not know conche shells produced pearls. The jewelry example is stunning.

  3. Isn't that conch pearl at the top of the post gorgeous!!!

    Well that makes three of us...I didn't know a conch shell produced pearls...see that is why I love your blog!!! I always learn something new & interesting...


  4. I didn't know either until I came across the scientific discovery!

  5. Pearl, you're awesome and I've presented you with the Beautiful Blogger award. See my blog for details.

  6. Thanks so much for the award, Susan! Just popping over to your blog.

  7. I love deep fried conch, makes me want to get on a plane and travel to a big plate served under an umbrella with warm ocean breezes. I would like conch even if it didn't have a pearl, however I've never had it served up in the shell so I guess I won't be the one to find the 1 in 10,000

  8. Never ever knew such a thing existed.

  9. The amazing thing about a Conch pearl is once you see one, hold one you will never forget it and always recognise it again. thanks for the great info.

  10. never knew these exists! very cool!

  11. I've seen conch pearls in books, but never in person. They sound amazing! It would be so nice to be able to work with them in jewelry.