The conch pearl has always been an intriguing gem. May one call these non-nacreous concretions pearls? I’ve always thought so. They are beautiful in their own right, but information and research has been sparse at best. I believe the only real account of the gem is in The Pink Pearl, by Bari and Federman.
Thanks to the efforts of Drs. Héctor Acosta-Salmón and Megan Davis of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, we may soon learn much more about this elusive gem. Using modified conventional techniques of seeding both freshwater and saltwater mollusks, efforts to culture both beaded and non-beaded conch pearls in the Strombus gigas have proven successful.
The research Acosta-Salmón and Davis conducted was not secret. They published their relaxation techniques years ago. In order to graft the Strombus gigas, it is first necessary to relax the snail so the innards become exposed. The locations of the grafts remain proprietary, a possible insinuation that the gonad is not necessarily host to the beaded pearl.
Conch pearls are among the most expensive, widely sought natural pearls today. Mikimoto has created extensive lines for their local market utilising these natural gems found only as a byproduct of the conch fishing industry in the Caribbean.
With the advent of this culture technology, will we see a Kokichi-esque shift from the naturals to the cultured? It remains to be determined whether the non-beaded cultured specimens will differ in any ascertainable way from their natural counterparts. A report is soon to publish in Gems & Gemology detailing GIA’s independent analysis. This seems to be a waiting game.
The market for natural conch will undoubtedly remain. Natural pearls, now overshadowed but the science of perliculture, have always maintained a degree of market share. But the price dips in the 1920s pushed many natural dealers to the brink. What will become of those who’ve hoarded conch pearls over the past decade, watching their investment flourish with the consistently rising values of this non-culturable pearl?