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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