It is a common misconception that only shellfish can produce pearls; in fact, sea snails can as well. The Queen Phoenix conch, for example, produces beautifully colored conch pearls, which are very unique organic gems, in terms of colors, shapes and flame patterns.
What are conch pearls? Properties, flame, shapes, sizes
As the name implies, the most distinguishing feature of conch pearls is that they are not grown inside a mussel like the common pearls we know, but are formed slowly inside a specific type of conch: the Queen Phoenix conch.
Since conch beads are formed completely naturally without any human intervention, they vary greatly in shape and size.
The second unique feature of conch pearls is that they have a unique flame pattern on their ceramic surface, like a magnified flame, a subtle wave-like pattern that forms on the surface of the pearl, in either lighter or darker colors.
This amazing filamentary effect is caused by the formation of calcite microcrystalline fibers in the concentric layers below the surface of the pearl. The flame pattern of the highest quality conch pearls is visible to the naked eye, sometimes delicate and soft, sometimes passionate and noble. The more pronounced the flame structure, the higher the price and the more popular.
They are also highly recognizable and cannot be imitated by humans, which is excellent news for a market flooded with unscrupulous merchants.
Like most natural pearls, which are baroque in shape, conch pearls are mostly free-form, as there are no artificially implanted round nuclei. This random shape also reflects the completely natural formation of these pearls and can be a good source of inspirations for designers to create unique jewelry.
If a conch pearl has a relatively symmetrical shape, its rarity and value will be higher, and the corresponding price will be much higher too than that of a random shape.
If a conch pearl is a perfectly symmetrical round or oval shape, especially an oval shape with a golden ratio of length and width, with an excellent top color and flawless flame pattern, it can be called the King of the Kings.
A conch pearl over 2-3 mm is already unusual, and one weighing over 10 carats is even rarer. Weight wise, a typical conch pearl weighs approximately 2 to 6 carats, with larger ones weighing up to 20 carats.
Colors: red and pink conch pearls
The third unique feature of conch pearls is their distinctive colors. The most typical colors of these pearls are pink and red. In fact, conch pearls have a wide band of colors, ranging from beige, yellow and brown to gold. White conch pearls have also been found.
The most valuable conch pearls are the pink ones. Chocolate ones are the rarest, followed by white ones, while tawny conch pearls are often referred to as gold.
Brown is the most common color of conch pearls. However, since fishermen often discard them, they are rarely sold, which may give buyers a biased view of this color.
There are many different shades of pink– so many that conch pearls were often called “pink pearls” in the 19th century. We can find very light pinks, very intense pinks, bright pinks, salmon like reds, etc.
What decides the color of a conch pearl?
The color of a conch pearl is determined either by the color of the conch shell, which can change at different stages of its life, or by what the conch eats.
For example, yellow conch pearls are often found in young conchs because some of them have yellow mussel shells. There is no written rule here, and it is more prudent to say that the color of a conch pearl reflects the color of the shell at different periods of its growth.
Is conch pearl jewelry new in the market?
Are conch pearls really new? Conch pearls have been all the rage at auctions in recent years, leading many people to believe that they are a precious jewel that has suddenly appeared on the market.
In fact, many fine pieces of conch pearl jewelry have been produced as early as the Victorian period in the 19th century. Throughout different design styles and periods, from Victorian, Art Nouveau to Art Deco, conch pearls have never been absent.
The largest conch pearl in the world
At international auctions, conch pearls are often sold for unexpectedly high prices. In June 2003, the world’s largest conch pearl to date, i.e. 100.4 carats was sold for $2.7 million at the Bauhinia auction in Hong Kong, once again setting a new record for the price paid for a single pearl.
How are they produced?
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As mentioned above, this pearl is characterized by the fact that it does not grow inside the mussel, but is slowly formed inside the conch.
The mother snail of the conch pearl, the Queen Phoenix snail, which is not originally a pearl-breeding species, requires considerable chance to give birth to such a wonderful pearl. The formation of the conch pearl is different from that of the mussel pearl, and is not an encapsulation of pearly liquid, but a more complex calcification process.
For example, when irritating objects such as a broken shell or a worm happens to burrow into a queen snail, the calcium secreted by the snail itself crystallizes, and eventually this crystallization becomes a beautiful conch pearl. This is very similar to the growth process of the famous Japanese Akoya pearl.
Because of their denser structure, conch pearls are tougher, harder, and of higher quality than mussel pearls, which are also organic stones.
Where are conch pearls found?
These pearl-producing conchs generally live on the beaches of Florida in the United States, the Yudantan Peninsula in Mexico, the Bahamas and the Arnty Peninsula in the Caribbean.
And the most famous and most productive is the Arnty Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea. This beautiful island reminds me of the home of the black pearl: Tahiti. Both are excellent tourist attractions, and both are good places to produce treasures!
Why are conch pearls the rarest pearls?
Their existence should be attributed entirely to nature, and not to any artificial cultivation.
1. They cannot be cultured in captivity.
This is what makes Conch pearls such a rare and expensive natural gemstone. Any attempt to artificially cultivate Conch pearls, at least to date, has invariably ended in failure. Only in about 50,000 conchs can one obtain a usable pearl after fleshing.
2. Natural production is very limited.
Therefore, only a total of 2,000 to 3,000 conch pearls can be found each year, and only 20-30% of these are used for jewelry, which is the main reason why natural Conch pearls are so rare throughout the world.
3. Sharp decline in the number of large phoenix snails.
Phoenix snails, the mother of the conch pearl, are a rare delicacy on the dinner table. As a result of heavy fishing, main snail producing areas have been turned into slaughterhouses and this species is gradually becoming extinct.
As a result, all countries producing phoenix snails except three have strict laws either banning or restricting the harvesting of these these precious snails. For all these reasons, conch pearls have been extremely rare.
Currently, half of conch beads in the market come from marine archaeologist Hendrickson, a monopolist of phoenix snails, which Hendrickson wants to develop into a thriving industry.
However, due to reckless hunting in the past and increasingly serious environmental problems today, the number of phoenix snails is dwindling. Hendrickson says: “Thirty years ago, in the Florida Keys you could find phoenix snails in a few feet of water; but now, fishermen have to drive far out and dive to great depths to find one or two, if they’re lucky. ”
Nowadays, most of the jewelry made of conch pearls is treasured by collectors around the world as fine jewelry.
Values and pricing
Size, shape, color and flame effect determine the value of conch pearls. Today, the highest quality pearls are worth up to $15,000 per carat or more, but they are very rare indeed. High-quality conch pearls typically range from $4,000 to $7,000 per carat and are not always perfect; by contrast, other pearls of the same quality cost between $2,000 and $3,000.
Famous conch pearl jewelry
Conch pearls have a celebrity following that is no match for any precious stone. In 1987, diamond-loving queen Elizabeth Taylor wowed Hollywood by wearing a complete set of conch pearl jewelry from Harry Winston.
Brad Pitt, the most handsome Oscar winner, bought Damiani’s most distinctive conch pearl jewelry for his collection.
Ryo Yamaguchi, who was the managing director of Mikimoto from 1957 to 1997, was convinced that the brand would take up the responsibility of developing conch pearls and spent the last decade of his tenure creating special collections for conch pearls every year, making Japan the first market in the world to recognize the value of conch pearls.
How and where to buy these pearls?
When shopping for jewelry probably the biggest concern for many is how to tell the difference between authentic and fake. In the case of conch pearls, every authentic one has characteristic flame patterns, some of which are obvious, while others require magnified observation.
Fake conch beads that are commonly found in the market are usually made of polished conch shells. Although they can be very close to real conch beads in color, the naturally formed circle-like texture of conch shells is difficult to remove, which is the most obvious feature of fake conch beads.
Thank you for reading this article. If it is helpful to you, comment below to let me know or check other articles on pearls that we have published: Pearl colors: A complete guide with categories, meanings and images.