5 Things to Know About … Conch Pearls

EditorsFeb 20, 2018

5 Things to Know About … Conch Pearls

Senior Editor Brecken Branstrator explores the characteristics of these rare, often pink pearls.

This ring from Assael features two natural conch pearls and 4.51 carats of diamonds set in platinum ($150,000).
Everyone knows about oyster pearls; their luster and beauty make for classic and timeless jewelry. 

But for the gem connoisseur looking for something a little different, there’s a mollusk that creates a pearl in shades of pink and peach that resemble some of the best colors of coral.

Conch pearls are produced naturally by the queen conch mollusk, found in the Caribbean. Most are elongated or baroque in shape; near-round specimens are extremely rare.

They were used in the Victorian era for the carving of cameos, and became even more popular during King Edward’s reign. They also can be seen in some Art Nouveau jewelry pieces.

Their popularity lasted through about the Art Deco period, after which they disappeared from the scene for a while before regaining popularity in the late ‘70s and 1980s.

This was due in part to American professional diver Sue Hendrickson, who started buying the pearls fishermen in the Caribbean found when emptying shells for sale. She eventually built up a collection of high-quality pearls and helped reintroduce them into jewelry design.

Now, this pink-hued pearl is used in designs from well-known brands such as Mikimoto, Tiffany & Co., Harry Winston, Chopard and Hemmerle.

Here are five facts about conch pearls that you might not have known.

1. They differ from oyster pearls in that they are non-nacreous.

Conch pearls are calcareous concretions of the queen conch mollusk, a large sea snail with a spiral-shaped shell. They have a pearl structure but, like melo melo pearls, are non-nacreous, according to the Gemological Institute of America.

A queen conch mollusk shell
A queen conch mollusk shell

They also weigh more than an oyster pearl and are sized by carat weight instead of millimeters, and are harder and more resistant to erosion.

But conch pearls and nacreous pearls do have the same chemical composition; the only difference between them is their polycrystalline structures, according to the GIA.

2. The finest examples often exhibit a “flame-like structure” that’s visible to the naked eye.

Because they are formed by concentric layers of fibrous calcium within the queen conch, the layering often produces a flame-like structure.

The most coveted have a vibrant chatoyancy that allows the flame to be visible to the naked eye; in fact, flame vibrancy is one of the most important determinants of value for a conch pearl, along with its shape and size.

Conch pearls also can come in a variety of colors, ranging from pink to white to brownish, though pink is the most common. 

Sonny Sethi of Tara Pearls said in Tucson that the conch pearls that are “baby-bubble-gum pink” in color continue to be the most in demand for them.

A loose conch pearl from Assael
A loose conch pearl from Assael

3. The queen conch is extremely rare.

There are a range of numbers in regards to the rarity of conch pearls, but most sources have it somewhere between one conch pearl found in every 10,000 shells to one in every 20,000.

Sethi told me that in his experience, one in 2,000 shells holds a pearl, one in 10,000 contains a conch that can be used in jewelry; and one in 100,000 holds a gem-quality piece.

Adding to this is the fact that the queen conch lives in fairly shallow water, is slow to grow and has a late maturation that makes it susceptible to overfishing, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In fact, it’s in decline because of overfishing and is now a threatened species.

Queen conch was once abundant in the Florida Keys but, after a collapse in conch fisheries in the 1970s, it is now illegal to commercially or recreationally harvest queen conch there.

It also has been listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreement since 1992 and since then, most of the countries involved in the trade of queen conch have been consistently agreeing to a number of actions to improve its sustainability and legality.

According to CITES, the queen conch is making a slow comeback.

4. The idea of a cultured conch pearl is a relatively new idea.

In the development of all pearls, nacreous or non-nacreous, an irritant gets trapped inside the mollusk and the pearl begins forming around it.

Because a queen conch shell has only one entrance, it is more difficult for an irritant to become trapped inside and start the pearl formation.

This is why it has been so difficult to cultivate them, until very recently.

In 2009, scientists at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute developed proprietary seeding techniques to produced beaded (nucleated) and non-beaded cultured pearls from the queen conch.

After less than two years of research and experimentation, researchers Héctor Acosta-Salmón and Megan Davis produced more than 200 cultured conch pearls. The researchers then took the specimens for laboratory testing. 

I reached out to the university to see what progress has been made since then, but they said they didn’t have any additional information at this time. 

This bracelet from Tara Pearls features 20 pieces of natural conch pearls weighing 23.60 total carats, 1.27 carats of rubies, 0.42 carats of fancy diamonds and 2.62 carats of white diamonds, all set in 18-karat white gold ($79,485).
This bracelet from Tara Pearls features 20 pieces of natural conch pearls weighing 23.60 total carats, 1.27 carats of rubies, 0.42 carats of fancy diamonds and 2.62 carats of white diamonds, all set in 18-karat white gold ($79,485).

And, according to a 2015 article in the GIA’s Gems & Gemology, the Laboratoire Français de Gemmologie analyzed eight samples of cultured conch pearls from a farm in Honduras.

The article said the cultured conch pearl samples had a “luster (that) was porcelaneous, and the surface was very smooth and homogenous with no defects. Almost all the samples possessed a typical but subtle flame pattern.”

Though the article noted at the time that “queen conch pearl culture is undergoing intensive development,” with the quality improving with each harvest, lab director Olivier Segura said Monday via email that the recent events in the Caribbean have had “huge consequences” on their farming.

Sethi told me no cultured conch pearls have yet hit the market, and Segura noted that while the farmers had improved techniques, in his opinion, the culturing of conch pearls is “not yet a market issue.”

5. Demand in the United States is steady. 

While conch pearls are in demand once again, thanks to their uniqueness, that demand is staying fairly consistent, Sethi said.  

This is not that surprising, given their rarity and higher pricing, which makes them accessible only to a certain customer. 

Since they got into the conch pearl market seven or eight years ago and started advertising it, Sethi said not much has changed for them in this sector. 

“The demand is there, but it’s only at the very elite level,” he commented, adding that this means conch pearls can only be sold at stores with a deep understanding of the gemstone. 
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

The Latest

Model Wearing Eat Cake Collection
CollectionsApr 16, 2024
Akaila Reid Launches ‘Eat Cake’ Collection

It’s ultra-feminine and filled with gold, pearls, and soft pastels.

Emily Highet Morgan, Emily Bennett
MajorsApr 16, 2024
Loudr Adds 2 Directors

Emily Highet Morgan and Emily Bennett have joined the agency’s team.

Stuller catalogs
MajorsApr 16, 2024
Stuller Releases First Lab-Grown Diamond Jewelry Catalog

Its updated book for mountings is also now available.

Brought to you by
The Blueprint for Success in Scalable, Personalized Jewelry Retail

With Ho Brothers, you can unlock your brand's true potential and offer customers the personalized jewelry experiences they desire.

Headshot of Karen Rentmeesters
SourcingApr 16, 2024
Karen Rentmeesters Takes Over as Interim CEO of AWDC

She has been with the organization since 2010, most recently serving as its chief officer of PR and industry relations.

Weekly QuizApr 11, 2024
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge with this seven-question quiz.
Take the Quiz
Joyce’s Jewelry
TechnologyApr 15, 2024
Judge Rules Jeweler’s Lawsuit Against PNC Bank Can Move Forward

Joyce’s Jewelry sued the bank after cybercriminals drained its accounts of nearly $1.6 million through a series of wire transfers.

Alfred W. DeScenza
IndependentsApr 15, 2024
Alfred W. DeScenza of DeScenza Diamonds Dies at 95

He is remembered by loved ones for his loyalty, integrity, and kindness.

Jewelers of America Fly In Washington, D.C.
Brought to you by
How Jewelers of America Represents Your Business

For over 30 years, JA has advocated for the industry, fought against harmful legislation and backed measures that help jewelry businesses.

Madeleine K. Albright
AuctionsApr 15, 2024
Madeleine K. Albright Jewelry, Pins Coming to Auction

Hosted by Freeman’s | Hindman, the sale will take place May 7-8.

Audemars Piguet circa 1985 emerald car watch
AuctionsApr 15, 2024
All of Sotheby’s ‘Rough Diamonds’ Sold in Less Than an Hour

The auction house said all 24 timepieces offered in its underground sale of rare and avant-garde watches quickly found buyers.

AGS Conclave 2024 logo Austin
Events & AwardsApr 15, 2024
10 Can’t-Miss Sessions at AGS Conclave 2024

From lab-grown diamonds and AI to the inevitable Taylor Swift mention, here are some of Conclave’s most intriguing educational offerings.

My Next Question webinar
Recorded WebinarsApr 12, 2024
Watch: What Jewelers Need to Know About Insurance

From cybersecurity liability to trade show coverage, insurance experts share tips on how to build the right policy.

Evil Eye Charm with Turquoise Disc
CollectionsApr 12, 2024
Piece of the Week: Lionheart’s Evil Eye Gemstone Charm

The charm is a modern rendition of the evil eye amulet that has been worn for thousands of years.

The Jewelry Symposium scholarship winners 2024
Events & AwardsApr 12, 2024
The Jewelry Symposium Announces 4 Scholarship Winners

Ahead of its trade show next month, TJS awarded free registration and accommodations to one jewelry professional and three students.

SRK Empire and SRK House
Policies & IssuesApr 11, 2024
SRK Exports’ Journey Toward Net Zero Impact

By the end of this year, SRK’s diamond manufacturing complexes will achieve net zero emissions, one of an impressive array of achievements.

AGTA logo
Lab-GrownApr 11, 2024
AGTA Bans Lab-Grown Diamonds, Gemstones at GemFair

Members can still sell lab-grown stones, it said, but only natural gems are allowed on the show floor.

Steven Rosdal
IndependentsApr 11, 2024
Steven Rosdal, Co-Founder of Hyde Park Jewelers, Dies at 77

He is remembered for his charisma, passion, integrity, kindness, and wit.

Macy’s Herald Square store
MajorsApr 11, 2024
Macy’s Opens Books for Possible Buyout

The retailer also appointed two new board members, avoiding a proxy fight from a potential buyer.

Sylvie Jewelry model
CollectionsApr 10, 2024
Sylvie Launches New Nature-Inspired Collection, ‘Tulira’

The bridal collection consists of 35 engagement rings and seven wedding bands.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Deepsea in 18-karat yellow gold
WatchesApr 10, 2024
These Are Rolex’s New Watches for 2024

The crown introduced a dozen timepieces in Geneva, including a heavy metal version of its deep-sea divers’ watch.

Levy’s Fine Jewelry diamond education
IndependentsApr 10, 2024
Levy's Fine Jewelry Explores Diamond History

The family-owned jeweler has a new education section on its website dedicated to the history of diamond cutting.

With Clarity NFL wedding bands
CollectionsApr 10, 2024
With Clarity Partners With NFL on Wedding Bands

The limited-edition men’s rings can be customized with one of 12 team logos.

Asian Star’s diamond manufacturing facility in India
SourcingApr 10, 2024
Compliance, Caution, and Concern: The Current Outlook of Indian Diamantaires

There is a willingness to comply with new government-mandated regulations, with an insistence that they should be practical and realistic.

Chrono24 watch inspection lab
WatchesApr 09, 2024
Chrono24 Debuts Pre-Owned Watch Authentication Program

The program, now live in Europe, will roll out to the U.S. this summer.

6.21-carat fancy vivid pink diamond
AuctionsApr 09, 2024
Phillips to Offer 6.21-Carat Vivid Pink Diamond

Colored gemstones and signed jewels are the focus of its upcoming Geneva sale.

Lucapa rough colorless and pink diamonds
SourcingApr 09, 2024
Former De Beers Exec Appointed to Lucapa Board

Stuart Brown, who was De Beers’ CFO and interim CEO, is now Lucapa’s independent non-executive chairman.

Jewelers for Children POS System Donations
MajorsApr 09, 2024
Jewel360 Announces New POS Integration, JFC Partnership

The point-of-sale software can now prompt customers to round up their credit card purchases as a donation to Jewelers for Children.


This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy