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Bling from a Caribbean Queen

January 19, 2010

The pink or conch pearl is produced by the biggest sea snail, the Strombus Gigas. This snail can be found in the Caribbean and on the Bahamas . The conch pearls are porcelain-like, have a silky glimmer and in most cases a strangely wavy pattern. If the bright points are looked at through a magnifying glass, you will see closed structures which resemble little flames.

Conch Pearl Fishers - Belize

 The conch natural pearl is one of the rarest pearls in the world. Its creation is due to a pure chance of nature. Every year at the most 2000 – 3000 conch pearls are fished from the flat waters around the coasts of Florida , the Bahamas , the Yucatans and the Antilles islands. Only 15 – 20% are suitable for making jewellery.  All previous attempts at cultivating them have failed because the Strombus Gigas sea snail that produces this pearl is extremely sensitive. The complicated spiral form of the snail shell means that it is not possible to reach the pearl-forming part without endangering the life of the animal. 

Candy-coloured conch pearls

The British settled in the Bahamas in the seventeenth century and began the exportation of conch shells. Ships from England, Europe and New York would arrive with goods for the British residents. After off-loading the goods, they would take on a few tons of conch shells to ballast the ships for the return voyage. Without ballast, a ship is not sufficiently weighted down, and becomes prone to capsizing or sinking in bad weather.

Although conch shells are no longer commercially significant, except as local souvenirs, Bahamians are still huge consumers of conch meat. Ask any Bahamian what his favourite food is and he’ll invariably answer conch. The Caribbean Islands have relied upon this food source as an important staple in their diet for centuries

Historical references to the conch pearl are sparse. The earliest is perhaps a cryptic handwritten mention of pink pearls (‘la perla rosa’) in the margin of Christopher Columbus’ logbook. Since the term ‘pink pearl’ is synonymous with conch pearls, it seems safe to assume that Columbus was referring to this gem.  

Pink Pearl Peonies, created by ETC and P. Lancon from the Susan Hendrickson collection

The first man known to have collected conch pearls, was London banker Henry Philip Hope (of Hope diamond fame), not out of partiality for the gem, but to assure the completeness of his collection.  An 1839 catalogue of his entire gem collection lists two conch pearls as among the most important of the 149 pearls he owned.

Pink pearl necklace and earrings belonging to the royal family of England, circal 1800-1890. The pink pearls are alternated individually with a cluster of white natural oyster pearls.

Conch pearl jewellery was not seen before 1800.  Of all England’s turn-of-the-century great ladies, Queen Mary is the only one specifically associated with conch pearls. She was one of the greatest champions that the conch pearl has ever had. She had come from a relatively impoverished  (although still aristocratic) background, and once she became Queen she developed a voracious appetite for jewellery, particularly diamonds and pearls.

Pink pearls and diamond necklace - created by Mikimoto

Today, Japan remains the world’s biggest conch pearl market.  Japanese customers feel that the gem has both “beauty and integrity”.  Integrity can only be found in a natural pearl.

Extracts and images from “The Pink Pearl: a natural treasure of the Caribbean”.

The conch pearl is one of the Nine Pearls , sometimes known as the Nava Moti, a group of sacred gemstones described in the Vedic text known as the Garuda Purana

The Oracle of the Pearl

 

On his way back from the K’un-lun Mountains, the Yellow Emperor lost the dark pearl of Tao. He sent Knowledge to find it, but Knowledge was unable to understand it. He sent Distant Vision, but Distant Vision was unable to see it. He sent Eloquence, but Eloquence was unable to describe it.

Finally, he sent Empty Mind, and Empty Mind came back with the pearl.

~ Chuang-tse~

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One comment

  1. Oh, that jewellry is beautiful!



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