Conch Pearls

Conch Pearls Defined
A Conch Pearl is a non-nacreous, porcelaneous pearl produced by the "Queen Conch" (Lobatus=Strombus gigas). "Conch pearls" -also known as "jellybeans" in the trade- often exhibit a unique flame-like pattern due to their concentrically arranged calcium carbonate platelets, arranged in a lamellar fashion. This beautiful optical effect is much harder to say and understand than to admire: the pearls seem to have "tongues of fire" within their interior.
Conch Pearl Zoom on Flame pattern - Conch Pearl Zoom on Flame pattern

A closeup of a Conch Pearl allows to see the "Flame Pattern" better.

Conch Pearls, the Pearl that is Not really a Pearl, in the Technical Sense
Conch (pronounced "konk") pearls contain no nacre, so technically they are not really pearls at all. Instead, these unique organic gems are considered a special kind of calcareous concretions known as "porcelaneous pearls". Also, they are not produced by pearly bivalve mollusks, but instead they are by a "snail" (Gastropod) known as the "Queen conch" (Lobatus=Strombus gigas), which resides primarily in the Caribbean Sea.
Conch Pearl Zoom on Flame pattern - Conch Pearl Zoom on Flame pattern

The "Queen Conch" marine gastropod in its natural environment.

Conch Pearls Are A Very Rare Occurrence
Although a technology to produce cultured conch pearls has been devised, there is not yet a commercial method for culturing conch pearls, so every single pearl you find today will be a natural pearl, thus, they are extremely rare and valuable. It is estimated that only 1 in every 10,000 conchs produces a pearl, and that less than 10% of those are of gem quality.
Cultured Conch Pearls grown at the University of Florida - Cultured Conch Pearls grown at the University of Florida

Cultured Conch Pearls from Dr. Héctor Acosta-Salmón of the CIBNOR reseach group in La Paz, México.

Conch Pearls Are Nature's Surprise
Since the meat of the Queen conch is considered an absolute delicacy, these animals are harvested by fishermen, rather than being sought for its pearls. The pearls tend to be "by-products" of the harvest, discovered by the fishermen as they clean their catch.

Pretty in Pink
Conch pearls are usually small in size -3 millimeters or less -and baroque or oval in shape. Their colors are generally pink, yellow, brown, white, or golden. Pink (or a salmon-colored orange-pink) is the most sought-after color, while white and brown are relatively rare and less desirable.
Lobatus gigas Conch pearls - Lobatus gigas Conch pearls

Beautiful Conch Pearls.

Conch Pearls Have a Flame Structure
In addition to its striking colors, the conch pearl often has another important surface feature called a "flame structure," which is a unique pattern in the coloration. The flame structure usually appears in the pink or white-pink pearls, although other colors may also exhibit it.

Beware! Colors may Fade
  1. An important fact to remember, if you are considering purchasing a conch pearl, is that its colors tend to fade significantly over time. Experts are not 100% completely sure why, although sunlight is often cited as the main factor in the fading.
  2. The reason? The colors are mainly due to the presence of Carotenoids, and these polyene chains are dramatically affected by the sun's UV light.
  3. Thus, it's recommended that conch pearls be worn primarily in the evening and not exposed to excessive sunlight.

Finding Pairs of Conch Pearls Is Extremely Rare
Since conch pearls are naturally both rare and unique, finding matching pearls for sets, earrings, strands, etc. is extremely difficult, thus significantly increasing both the cost and the value of such sets.

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