Conch Pearl: The Only Natural Pink Pearl

Conch Pearls are among the rarest and most valuable of all natural pearls. It has been estimated that approximately 10,000 conch must be harvested before a single pearl is found.

What are conch pearls?

Conch pearls are rare gems formed inside the Queen Conch, a large sea snail found in the Caribbean Sea and around Bermuda. They are not technically true pearls, since they lack the nacreous layer that gives traditional pearls their luster. Instead, conch pearls are made of calcium carbonate, the same material that makes up their shells.

Most often pink in colour and normally oval shaped, the finest examples display a wave-like “flame” structure on their surface and have a creamy, porcelain-like appearance and unique shimmer.

Unlike pearls harvested from oysters, conch pearls – like other naturally occurring pearls, including the Melo and Giant Clam – are non-nacreous, which means they are not made of nacre, the substance that gives traditional pearls their iridescent lustre.

Conch Pearl
Collection of fine quality pink conch pearls. photo: MONILI

How are conch pearls formed?

It is believed that a conch pearl is formed when an irritant, often a broken bit of shell, enters the Queen conch, around which a calcareous concentration forms. These concentric layers of fibrous crystals build up around the irritant, in the same way as kidney stones grow in humans.

Unlike oysters, which can be prized open to reveal the exact location of a pearl, no-one knows precisely where conch pearls are formed because of the elaborate whorled structure of a conch shell. Grown inside a pearl sac in the orange mantle of the Queen conch, they are normally found at the same time as the meat is cut out of the shell.

Conch Pearl: The Only Natural Pink Pearl
Queen conches are harvested by teams of fishermen in the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean, from the Yucatán all the way up to Bermuda (Image featured in The Pink Pearl, courtesy of Susan Hendrickson).

Where are conch pearls found?

Found in large groups of up to 200, Queen conches live among beds of sea grass in the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean, from the Yucatán all the way up to Bermuda.

Conch pearls are a beautiful by-product of the fishing industry in this region. Caught primarily for its meat, the Queen conch is eaten throughout the Caribbean and the US, raw in salads or cooked in local delicacies such as chowders and fritters.

Overfishing in many of the locations in which the Queen conch is found has forced all but three conch-producing countries to ban fishing to protect populations, which it is predicted will not recover for decades. This means fewer conch pearls are coming to market.

Conch Pearl: The Only Natural Pink Pearl
Pink conch pearls pictured alongside Melo and Giant Clam pearls, all of which are created naturally, making them exceptionally rare. (Image featured in The Pink Pearl, courtesy of Susan Hendrickson).

At one time, Queen conches were also found off the coast of Florida, where it is now illegal to fish them.

Why are conch pearls so rare?

In a world dominated by cultured pearls, natural pearls, formed without human intervention, come with the “rare” tag that makes them infinitely more desirable. Just like gemstones, which are more valuable if they are sold in their natural, untreated state, the exclusivity of conch pearls is partly down to the fact that they are 100% as nature intended. However, there are other factors that contribute to their rarity. 

Size, Shape & Care

Most conch pearls have an elongated, oval, or baroque shape, and near-round specimens are very rare. Conch pearls weigh significantly more than oyster pearls, with a specific gravity of 2.85; and unlike other pearls, are sized by carat weight. Conch pearls are rated harder than nacreous pearls resulting in more resistance to erosion and corrosion than nacreous pearls.

Although conch pearls can be found over 100 carats, larger sizes (above 5 carats) of conch pearls are uncommon, with the average size being less than 3 carats. Due to the high value of conch pearls, drilling and/or gluing should be avoided in the mounting, as this will devalue the pearl. Known as the night gem, prolonged exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet light) can have a dulling and fading effect.

Indoor lighting does not seem to have effects on the pearls. It is an organic gem, therefore, jewelry should be used with care-no gardening, rock climbing, safaris and washing dishes is also out of the question!

Conch Pearl: The Only Natural Pink Pearl
Pink conch pearls

Conch pearl value

A combination of size, shape, colour and flame effect determines the value of a conch pearl. “Prices vary wildly and have increased rapidly for the rarest pearls,” says Sue Hendrickson. “Therefore, people are reluctant to quote them. Excellent pearls today can cost as much as $15,000 per carat and more, but those are the exceptionally rare ones. Top-grade conch pearls are more typically around $4,000-$7,000 per carat and nice, but not necessarily perfect, pearls around $2,000-$3,000.”
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