If you’ve ever held a large seashell to your ear and dreamt of briny, peaceful days by the ocean, odds are that shell once belonged to a marine mollusk called a conch – a large, edible sea snail shaped like a spiral cone with a habitat stretching from Bermuda to Brazil. While prized for their fantastic shell and delicate meat, the conch also gives us fiery, tantalizing conch pearls.
Common estimates suggest that fewer than one in 10,000 conchs will produce a pearl, making it one of the rarest to be found. Of those, fewer still are of such quality as to be fit for use in fine pearl jewelry. In fact, it’s technically incorrect to refer to conch pearls as pearls, given that, unlike pearls from an oyster or mussel, they are composed without nacre. “Non-nacreous calcareous concretion” may be a more correct term, but for our purposes here, we much prefer the simpler designation of pearl.
The concentrically arranged, columnar stacking of calcite and aragonite crystals produces an optical phenomenon singular to conch pearls: flame structure. When intersecting groups of crystals (arranged perpendicularly to the pearl’s surface) interact with light, the effect is often perceived as radiating ripples of fire. This flame structure varies in intensity from pearl to pearl, but at its best gives the illusion of an ‘eye’ that moves with the pearl. As one might expect, conch pearls with exceptional flame structure are a rare indulgence.
Color is another unique aspect of conch pearls, with expressions of salmon, butter, blush and rouge. Vibrant colors are more highly sought than paler, not only for aesthetics, but also as an indication of the maturity and health of the conch and its environment. A word of caution, though, as you parade your conch jewelry about: prolonged exposure to sunlight may dull and diminish the splendor of color and flame structure.
Conch pearls are usually small and non-spherical, being rather oval or baroque in shape. Symmetry, or conversely asymmetry, is one of the leading determinants of value. Regardless of size or shape, a conch pearl truly is a most fascinating and rare gem to add to a fine jewelry collection. Fancy a bit of flame structure in your wardrobe? Simply get in touch. Spey would be delighted to have you try something on.