The interest in conch pearls is rising faster than ever. This past December a conch pearl and diamond necklace sold for OVER 1 MILLION DOLLARS! These pearls have been around since ancient civilization eras, but most people don’t know the difference between a conch pearl and an oyster pearl.
Soooooooo….let’s dive in!
How is a Conch Pearl Different from an Oyster Pearl?
First, let’s talk about an oyster pearl for a second. An oyster pearl is made of nacre, the hard substance with a white(ish), iridescent lustre. An irritant enters the oyster shell (like sand) and the oyster protects itself by producing and coating the irritant with nacre, which gets bigger with each layer and then bam– you have a pearl.
Oyster pearls are often cultivated or farmed, meaning an irritant is purposefully inserted into the oyster shell and the pearl creating process is managed. They’re occasionally found in nature, but not very often.
These pearls can cost from $300 to $1500 each, with rare ‘wild’ pearls being the most expensive.
Conch pearls are formed in a manner similar to oyster pearls, but they are NEVER farmed or cultivated. Alllll natural for these babies and that’s one reason they’re more expensive.
An irritant enters the shell, and a defense mechanism coats the intruder with a calcareous concentration. Layers of fibrous crystals build up around the irritant and eventually a beautiful pinkish, oval-shaped ‘pearl’ is formed. The finest examples showcase a wave-like “flame” structure on their surface and have a creamy, porcelain-like appearance and mesmerizing shimmer.
There are other colors too– white, beige, yellow, brown to a golden hue– but pink is by far the most common version on the market. Typically the pearl color matches the outside of the shell.
It’s hard to determine exactly where the pearl forms, because a conch shell has so many swirls and curves. They’re usually found when the meat is cut out of the shell, which is served mainly in Caribbean dishes.
On that note, queen conches live primarily in the Caribbean ocean. Recently, overfishing has caused a ban in all but three conch producing countries while populations recover. This obviously makes the conch pearl treasure hunt even more elusive and exciting.
How rare are they? Conch pearls are SUPER rare (only one is found in every 10-15,000 shells), which raises the price tag significantly. You can expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000 per carat.
Why are Conch Pearls so Expensive?
We’ve already covered some of the reasons:
- They’re rare and few are in circulation.
- Conch pearls are completely natural (never farmed).
- Each pearl has an organic shape and unique color.
- Demand for authentic and rare gemstones and pearls are up.
Jewelry trends are moving toward more unique and custom made designs. Buyers are seeking out unique shapes, cuts, and colors, and obviously the beautiful conch pearl fits perfectly in this space.
Cookie cutter pearls and gemstones are selling less and less because individuals want authentic and uniquely made pieces.
The conch pearl necklace (below) that recently sold for over one million dollars is a perfect example. It featured a graduated, double strand of 135 multicolored conch pearls, each spaced by diamond beads. The icing on the cake is the old European cut diamond clasp signed by Cartier, Ltd. London.
If you can afford to purchase conch pearls, it’s best to save them for evening attire vs. daily wear. Prolonged exposure to sunlight causes them to fade.
The interest and demand for conch pearls will keep increasing. There have already been a few attempts to cultivate these pearls, but none have proven super successful so far. In 2009, Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute reportedly cultivated approximately 200 conch pearls, but they weren’t marketable.
Since consumers are moving away from cultivated and farmed pearls, we really hope scientists leave this one to nature.
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