The Rare Pink Pearls of Queen Conch

Pearls can be formed by different types of molluscs other than saltwater oysters and freshwater mussels. One of the most celebrated and rarest types of natural pearls are the delicate pink pearls of Queen Conch. Shyly peeking out from underneath this shell are the eyestalks of an endangered mollusc that lives in the shallow and warm waters of the Caribbean Seas.

Queen Conch, also known as Lobatus gigas or Strombus gigas, is one of the largest living molluscs and can grow up to 30cm in size. Believed to have been around since the Pliocene Epoch, some 2.5 to 5 million years ago, Queen Conch has an average lifespan of between 20 and 30 years old. She likes to lunch in warm shallow sandy waters with easy access to food such as a seaweed salad.

The outside of the shell is in the shape of an elegant cone, which has a distinctive spiral of spines arranged in bands that become wider towards the opening of the shell. Between the shell and the mantle, the part of the mollusc that forms the shell, Queen Conch can also be found very occasionally to be safeguarding a small, precious pearl.

If you are familiar with the lustrous metallic shine of pearls that are produced in a nacre-producing mollusc, the appearance of a conch pearl is quite different. The pearl produced by a conch is a calcareous concretion composed of calcite and may exhibit a beautiful flame-like pattern on its surface. The colour of a conch pearl can also be a subtle pink, orange, brown, or white.

Conch pearls are usually just 2 to 3 millimetres in size, but it is possible to find baroque or oval shaped pearls of up to 3 centimetres. Round shaped conch pearls are almost never discovered today. As finding a natural conch pearl is rare and highly valued, Queen Conch pearls are relatively unknown to the jewellery buying public. It is particularly difficult to find conch pearls that can be matched for use in sets or earrings.

For years populations of conch in the Caribbean have been dramatically reduced by over-fishing, poaching and pollution. Today in most countries fishing and diving for Queen Conch is banned, but her future reign sadly remains a difficult one.