Tag: natural pearls

Top Ten Most Wanted, Continued (#5 and Counting)

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

Today’s installment brings us to the next oyster criminal – meet the Flatworm.

Flatworm Most Wanted Poster

5) Flatworms
These are tiny offenders, growing only to a length of about one inch. They are hard to see because of their size and usually near transparent color, and that’s a good thing, because once you get a good look at them they are truly gross.  Flatworms have an appetite for the meat of the oyster and gain access by slipping their small, translucent bodies in between the oyster’s two shells, proceeding to feast on the live oyster from the inside!

Interestingly enough, intruders similar to the flatworm are more likely to cause an oyster to produce a pearl than the legendary “grain of sand.”  The oyster tries to prevent the worm from eating him by coating him with consecutive layers of an egg-white substance called “nacre” that crystalizes on the worm.  This puts a stop to the discomfort and forms a tiny pearl, however, only one in 15,000 of these type of natural pearls are high enough quality to go on the market.

Flatworms try to eat the oyster and themselves become a pearl – we like that reversal, however the audacity of trying to eat someone from the inside earns this breed a Number Five (#5) on our Ten Most Wanted List.

We hope you have enjoyed the information so far!  Stay tuned for more unbelievable oyster threats, leading up to the Number One (#1) enemy of our beloved oysters.  You wouldn’t believe what some oysters go through to deliver their beautiful pearls!

Pearl on a Map

Natural Pearls are Demanding Center Stage – Part 2!

If you read our last blog, you learned all about some of the more unusual types of natural pearls. But, those beauties don’t even begin to cover the natural pearl market, which has been re-emerging in recent years. Many collectors like to have natural strands because of their rarity, and the “untouched by man” beauty natural pearls possess, while more still are attracted to natural pearls because of their history. Pearls last forever, and many collectors like the connection to the colorful pasts and experiences that previous wearers of the pearls have had. It truly is the romance and history that is drawing natural pearls back into the market. These jewels can fetch extraordinary prices, and in 1999, a strand of pearls worn by Marie Antoinette and later owned by Barbara Hutton sold for $1.6 million in a Christie’s auction.[quote float=”left”]In 1999, a strand of pearls worn by Marie Antoinette and later owned by Barbara Hutton, sold for $1.6 million in a Christie’s auction.[/quote]

Composed of 44 graduated pearls, this necklace, amongst Marie Antoinette’s other jewels, were some of the only surviving relics from her reign as the last Queen of France. The history of this necklace began in the hands of Anne of Austria in the 1600s. Passed from generation to generation, the necklace was inherited by Marie Antoinette and remained in her possession until her incarceration in 1792, when she gave many of her jewels to Lady Elizabeth, the wife of the British ambassador Lord George Leveson-Gower in hopes that she would hold them in safe keeping until she could make her escape. That day never came. It is unclear the path that this necklace traveled between that date and when it was purchased for Barbara Hutton as a wedding gift from Cartier’s of New York in 1933.

Marie Antoinette/Barbara Hutton Pearl Necklace
The necklace originally owned by Marie Antoinette, with a turquoise and diamond clasp. When sold in 1999, the necklace featured a mine-cut diamond cluster clasp.

The provenance of these beautiful pieces is, to be sure, a large consideration in their ultimate cost. The natural pearl market broke another record when again in 2007, not one but two natural pearl necklaces sold for over $4 million each. [quote float=”right”]Again in 2007, not one but two natural pearl necklaces sold for over $4 million each. [/quote]The Duchess of Windsor necklace sold for $4.82 million by Sotheby’s. Composed of 28 natural pearls, a diamond clasp, and a large baroque enhancer, this necklace was originally owned by Queen Mary, wife of King George V. King George then gave it to his wife, the Duchess, and it was eventually given to her son as a gift, and later sold in 1987 when Calvin Klein bought the necklace for Kelly Klein, who was his wife at the time.


The enhancer often worn with the Duchess of Windsor necklace
The enhancer often worn with the Duchess of Windsor necklace.
Duchess of Windsor Pearl Necklace
The Duchess of Windsor pearl necklace.

The pearl set known as the Baroda Pearls sold for $7.1 million in a Christie’s auction. Frequently documented as “the most important pearl necklace in history,” the Baroda necklace and matched earrings, brooch, and ring contains pearls that have passed through many generations of Indian maharajas. The necklace, in its original state, contained seven strands of perfectly matched pearls of legendary quality. It was the Indian culture that first deemed the large, round, blemish free pearl – like those that still command the highest market prices today – “the ideal pearl.” The necklace in its current state is a double strand, featuring the largest and most high quality pearls from the 4th-7th strands of the original necklace.

Maharajah Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad wearing the Baroda pearl necklace in its original state. His wife, Sita Devi, is in the background.
Maharajah Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad wearing the Baroda pearl necklace in its original state. His wife, Sita Devi, is in the background.
The Baroda Pearls
The Baroda Pearl set sold in a 2007 Christie’s auction.

Probably the most well known pearl in American history is the La Peregrina, which means “The Pilgrim” or “The Wanderer” in Spanish. It was probably most well known for the time is spent with actress Elizabeth Taylor. It was gifted to her by her husband, Richard Burton.[quote float=”left”]In 2011, the famed La Peregrina sold for an astounding $11.8 million.[/quote] When she received the pearl, it came with a booklet documenting the pearl’s history, from the time of its discovery by a slave in the 1500s until the time she bought it. The magnificent gem had spent some time as part of the Spanish royal gems, and was eventually given to Mary Tudor of England by Prince Phillip of Spain as an engagement present. It was during Elizabeth Taylor’s ownership of the pearl that it was set into the beautiful choker it is still seen in today. The choker part of the piece also contains natural pearls, separated by large, decorative ruby and diamond pieces. The design was inspired by a painting of Mary Queen of Scots. This queen of pearls made history when in 2011, the famed La Peregrina sold for an astounding $11.8 million.

The La Peragrina and Choker Elizabeth Taylor had it set in
The La Peregrina and Choker Elizabeth Taylor had it set in.
Elizabeth Taylor wearing the La Peragrina
Elizabeth Taylor wearing the La Peregrina.

These necklaces weren’t the only natural pearl pieces to fetch prices upwards of a million dollars. In fact, in 2012, Christie’s auctioned off three pearl necklaces, ranging in cost from $1.7-$4.7 million dollars, and one for $1.4 million in 2013. It looks like, despite their rarity and staggering cost, these amazing natural pieces are still present in the market and will be for some time.

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The World’s Most Expensive Pearls (Part 2)



Natural Pearls are Demanding Center Stage!

(Looking for natural pearls? Contact the Pearl Girls for more information!)

Some of the questions the Pearl Girls here at Pearls International get asked frequently by new customers are “are your pearls real?” “are these cultured pearls?” and other similar inquiries. This gives us a chance to talk about our favorite subject – the beautiful, unique gems called pearls! Walking into our shop for the first time can be overwhelming – there are so many different shapes, sizes and colors that many of the people we meet had no idea could come out of a mollusk!

So, yes, ALL of our pearls are real, and most of the pearls we have on display are cultured. The vast majority of the pearls on the market today are cultured, with natural selections being found primarily at estate auctions, pearl collectors, and through older jewelers who specialize in antique jewelry – and you will pay quite a price for them. Most cultured strands start around $130, while it is not uncommon to pay that price (or much more) for a single natural pearl!

So why pay for a natural pearl when you can get a cultured pearl for a fraction of the price? All pearls are unique, but natural pearls offer even more unusual, exotic selections that you may not be able to find in cultured varieties. There are several species of pearl-producing mollusks that can not withstand the process of having a nucleus implanted in them to start the process of making a pearl. Yes, there are more crazy, beautiful, unique pearls available than you can ever imagine! Here are some of the amazing things you can find in this corner of the market:


Abalone mother of pearl mosaic bangle from Pearls International
Abalone mother of pearl mosaic bangle from Pearls International.

You may have seen Abalone jewelry in our store, as Abalone mother of pearl is commonly used in jewelry and many of the other applications you see mother of pearl from an oyster used.

A red abalone sea snail from California.
A red abalone sea snail from California.

Abalone sea snails are found in rocky coastal waters all over the world, most commonly in Australia, New Zealand (where they are known as paua shells), South Africa, and California. They are commonly farmed and raised for food, and the meat is very valuable, selling for around $60 a pound. In addition to this, new methods are being developed to produce cultured mabé pearls from abalone snails. It is relatively easy to attach a bead to the inside of the shell of the snail without damaging the animal. However, it is impossible to culture a full Abalone pearl as they are hemophiliacs, meaning that if injured they will bleed out. Therefore, the nucleation process would kill the animal. Not to mention, the shape of the snail (being that it only has one shell, unlike oysters which have two) makes it hard to keep a bead in the shell long enough to begin the pearl-forming process. In fact, Abalone snails also have a large “foot” that is adept at kicking out foreign objects – such as a shell bead inserted by a human.

Cultured mabé abalone pearls.
Cultured mabé abalone pearls.


A rough and polished New Zealand Abalone shell
A rough and polished New Zealand Abalone shell – look at those colors!

You can imagine how rare it is, considering these factors, to find an Abalone pearl. It is estimated that only 1 in 50,000 Abalone sea snails will produce a pearl, usually the result of a foreign object such as an invading parasite becoming lodged in their shell. That alone makes them an incredible value to pearl collectors. Additionally, Abalone are the most colorful of all pearl-producing mollusks, so of course the pearls show the same amazing array of colors – fantastic blues, greens, silver shades, and purples, and sometimes with a hint of red or orange. Abalone pearls are always baroque in shape, and the shape of them usually resembles a shark’s tooth. Prices on Abalone pearls are high and vary greatly depending on what the buyer is looking for, size, color, and luster. An average price range is $20-$100 per carat.

An assortment of natural abalone pearls.
An assortment of natural abalone pearls.


A Conch Shell
A conch shell with a nice bold pink inner coloration.

Yes, pearls can even come from a conch shell! Conch is a general term referring to any medium or large sized sea snail, generally whose shell has a high spire and a noticeable siphonal canal. The specific conch that produces the wonderful and rare “pink pearls” is the Queen or Pink Conch, found in the Caribbean sea.  Some Conch Pearls laid out in front of a conch shell with a strand of white pearls draped over it.While conch pearls may look like a pearl, they are not actually classified as such. Since conch contain no nacre (the substance that causes pearls to have the iridescent “luster” they are known for), conch pearls are more scientifically classified as non-nacreous calcareous concretions (what a mouthful!). They are formed in the same way other pearls are formed, and as all pearls are technically “calcareous concretions,” pearl collectors and enthusiasts everywhere still refer to them as pearls. Confusing, right?

Conch pearls are usually relatively small, averaging around 3mm, and are mainly oval or baroque in shape. Conch pearls go for around $500 per carat, although this can increase drastically depending on shape, quality, and a property called flame – an amazing display on the surface of the gem that really does make it look like a fire burning on the surface.

A conch pearl showing "flame."
A conch pearl showing “flame.”

Conch pearl jewelry is seen in many elegant and extravagantly expensive necklaces (like this one!), pendants, and rings. However, if you are fortunate enough to own one of these stunning pieces, beware that conch pearl color can fade over time when exposed to sunlight and other factors, so they must be stored and worn carefully.

Mikimoto Conch Necklace
Mikimoto Conch Necklace

Melo Melo:

Melo Melo Sea Snail
Who would have thought this giant snail could produce a pearl?!

For those of you still giving oysters all the credit on the pearl market, here is yet another pearl-producing snail! Meet the Melo Melo snail, found in the waters of Vietnam, Malasyia, Burma, and sometimes China and the Philippines. This sea snail is also known as the Indian Volute or Zebra Snail. There is no known way to culture pearls from this animal, so all melo melo pearls are natural. Like the conch pearl, melo melo pearls are not true pearls, but a non-nacreous, natural calcareous concretion.

Assorted Melo Melo Pearls
An assortment of melo melo pearls.

Also known as Vietnamese pearls, melo melo pearls can range from tan to dark brown, hitting shades of orange in between. Pearls of a bright orange color, round in shape, and showing a flame pattern are the most beautiful and most valuable. These pearls are usually symmetrical and round or near round, and range in size from 7mm and even up to 40mm. That is a huge pearl! Of course, a pearl of that size would command an incredible price on the market. It is not uncommon for even a small melo melo pearl to sell for over $1,000.

Melo Melo Jewelry Set
This set of melo melo pearls includes a necklace, earrings, and ring set with diamonds and jadeite – stunning!

Melo melo pearls are even more rare than conch pearls – the only known strand (pictured above) contains only 14 of these pearls, which is a relatively small number compared to more traditional strands. It is most commonly used in rings and pendants, although you may occasionally be able to find a pair of matched earrings.

A melo melo pearl dragon pendant.
A melo melo pearl pendant, in a fitting setting due to their nickname “Dragon Pearl.”


A melo melo pearl ring.
This melo melo pearl ring shows off the pearl in a simple 14k gold setting.



Steamed Quahog Clams
Steamed quahog clams..wonder if they’re hiding any ocean treasure in there?

Quahog pearls (pronounced KO-hog) are possibly the rarest find on our list so far. Produced by a non-nacreous saltwater clam found along the Atlantic coastline, called Mercenaria Mercenaria, these pearls take about 4-8 years to form, and are most commonly found in white, beige, brown, and sometimes near black. The most rare and prized quahogs, however, are purple or lilac in color, and this variety of clam is only of the only mollusks capable of producing a truly purple pearl.

An amazing selection of quahog pearls.
An amazing selection of quahog pearls.

We’re not sure why these clams are not used for culturing pearls, but we have a couple of guesses. For one, they do not produce nacre, which all cultured pearls are required to have to be classified as a true pearl. Also, these pearls take an unusually long time to form, and usually only form in older specimens because of this. Additionally, mollusks farmed for food are not usually used for pearl production, and vice versa. With the quahog market being as scarce as it is, and all of these factors considered, it would likely not be cost effective to farm them on the rare chance of getting enough purple pearls to build up the market.

Connor O'Neal, 7, with his quahog pearl.
7-year-old Connor O’Neal found this quahog pearl while eating his favorite food, clams.

As all quahogs are natural, and the clams are often used in food, most of these pearls are actually acquired by unsuspecting patrons at their local seafood bar. They are so uncommon (not to mention fragile) that the asking price usually far exceeds what one is willing to pay for them, therefore most of the lucky finders of these beauties tend to hold on to them or set them in jewelry for themselves or loved ones. Whether or not the demand for these pearls will increase in later years is hard to tell, but if the quahog market continues to follow the trend with the rest of the natural pearl family, we may see more of these for sale in the future.

A rare quahog pearl ring.
A rare quahog pearl ring – quahog pearl jewelry is hard to find as they are so rare and brittle.

One rare and incredible piece of quahog jewelry was found by a man named Alan Golash, of Newport, Rhode Island. Golash buys and restores antique jewelry for a living, and found this amazing piece at an antique store. It cost him a mere $14. Upon inspection, it was found to be composed of two quahog pearls – one measuring 14mm – 18k gold, three small diamonds, and black and white enamel. Not much is known about the history of this piece, but Golash believes it to be around 150-200 years old. He speculates that it may have belonged to the wife of a captain of a whaling or clipper ship, as they were of high class during that period of time and would have had the financial ability to procure such a piece. The current value of the piece is subject to a lot of speculation, as an exact value for quahog pearls is very difficult to pinpoint. Golash has the piece insured, but has not released the appraisal value to the public.

The "Golash Brooch."
The “Golash Brooch.”



Not as rare as the others, but equally interesting, is the scallop pearl. Formed primarily in the Lion’s Paw Scallop of North, Central, and South America, these non-nacreous pearls occur in around one in every 50,000 scallops. Any pearls collected are byproducts of the fishing industry. They too are only found, never cultured.

"Plum" colored scallop pearls.
“Plum” colored scallop pearls.

Scallop pearls are usually small and range in color from shades of brown to plum or purple, orange, and white-purple. Brown is generally undesirable, and the pearl has to be very high quality to be marketable if it is also brown. The calcite in scallop pearls usually forms in microscopic platelets that show a type of “adventuresence” that makes it appear that these pearls have a type of glitter shimmering beneath the surface, gaining them the nickname “glitter pearls.” Scallop pearls sell for around $50-$500 a piece depending on quality.

After seeing all these beauties, we are even more pearl crazy than before! These aren’t even all of them – there are also Pen pearls (nacreous and non-nacreous oyster pearls), various other clam pearls, and Cassis pearls (another pearl from a sea snail) just to name a few! Nature’s little treasures really are breathtaking. It’s no surprise that natural pearls have such an incredible following in the jewelry industry and in the pearl market. If this blog interested you, you may enjoy part 2 – an article about some amazing and historical natural pearl pieces that have sold in auction, such as the famous La Peregrina.

Dream of coming across your own special pearl one day at the oyster bar? Why not check out the next best thing and open your very own wish pearl from Pearls International!

You could open your very own oyster - each one guaranteed to contain a special lucky treasure!
You could open your very own oyster – each one guaranteed to contain a special lucky treasure!

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The House a Necklace Bought

In my search for unique pearls, I came across an inspiring story about the origins of the famous Cartier building in New York City. The story is told that in 1915 Louis Cartier made history with the first natural, double-stranded Oriental pearl necklace costing $1.2 million ($16 million today). This necklace was placed on exhibition all over the world including Paris, London, and New York City. In the fall of 1916, the necklace’s appearance in New York reportedly caused a huge uproar with women from all over coming to admire them. Among these ladies was Mae “Maisie” Plant. At the time Cartier’s New York Salon was on the second floor of a small building in an inconspicuous part of town. Coincidently, Maisie had just placed her $1.2 million mansion up for sale. Knowing she wanted to sell her mansion anyway, Maisie approached Cartier and proposed a trade…the mansion for the pearl necklace. Surprisingly, Cartier accepted. Ever since that exchange, the Cartier firm has been located in the former Plant mansion and has come to be a great landmark for tourists in New York City.


Regrettably, things did not go as well for Maisie as with Cartier. Seeing how she didn’t anticipate the depression, war, or the introduction of cultured pearls her necklace did not end up being an even trade. Maisie died in 1956 and in 1957, her $1.2 million necklace was sold at auction for a mere $170,000; the current value of the Fifth Avenue mansion I’ll leave to your imagination. More recently, in 2004, a similar natural, double-strand pearl necklace sold at Christie’s for $3.1 million. Because only one gem-quality pearl is uncovered from every 25,000 wild oysters found in the ocean, these pearls are considered the rarest in the world today. If only Plants’ heirs had held on to her necklace for a few more decades, they could have sold Maisie’s pearls for much more!

Maisie Plant and her fabulous double strand of natural pearls from Cartier.
Maisie Plant and her fabulous double strand of natural pearls from Cartier.
Fossil Oyster

Beauty Etched in Stone

Pearls have ALWAYS been classic, and now we have proof that even dinosaurs thought they were the ultimate accessory! Well, maybe not, but we can dream, right?

Check out these awesome FOSSIL PEARLS!

The oldest fossil pearls known to man date all the way back 230-210 million years ago! Always rare, fossil pearls are almost always associated with marine bivalves (oysters). During a pearl’s fossilization, aragonite (the mineral that makes up most of the pearl) is replaced by calcite or some other different mineral, but in cross-section the fossils show the same concentric layering seen in modern pearls (American Museum of Natural History).

In Vienna, Austria a fossil pearl found is said to date back 16.5 million years and is from the Komeunurg Basin near Vienna. It was formed during the Miocene age within the giant mussel Perna Aquitania. Its growth was activated by the drilling action on a Gastrochaena bivalve which penentrated the mussel-shell. Research shows that the paleo-enviroment 16.5 million years ago, was a tropical estuary with swamp forests

What would you do with a pearl the size of a golf ball?! Experts at the Blue Reef Aquarium believe that a massive mollusk fossil that was recently found in the Solent, a strait separating mainland England from the Isle of Wight might go back 100 million years, is 10 times the size of your average oyster and could possibly be a concealing a pearl!

Fossil Pearls

A cross section of the larger pearl showing the concentric layers.

Fossil Pearl Layers

Three ‘pearls’ attached to fragments of Inoceramid shells. The fourth pearl in the lower right was unattached and is a badly formed hemispherical pearl.

Fossil Pearls


Now that we know it’s possible, we wonder if this fine specimen, discovered by Marty Stradley, owner of Pearls International, in a potato field in Idaho many years ago, might also contain a fossil pearl!

Fossil Oyster

Thanks to www.oceansofkansas.com for their great photos!