In their natural form, conch pearls are among the rarest pearls in the world—it takes about 10,000 queen conch to find one conch pearl and only 1 in 100 of those is gem quality. For more than 25 years, all attempts at culturing pearls from the queen conch (Strombus gigas) have been unsuccessful—until now. For the first time, novel and proprietary seeding techniques to produce beaded (nucleated) and non-beaded cultured pearls from the queen conch have been developed by scientists from Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. Prior to this breakthrough, no high-quality queen conch pearl had been cultured, and this discovery opens up a unique opportunity to introduce a new gem to the industry. This significant accomplishment is comparable to that of the Japanese in the 1920s when they commercially applied the original pearl culture techniques developed for pearl oysters.
Harbor Branch has been working with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to conduct extensive laboratory testing of the queen conch cultured pearls. In its independent analysis, GIA used techniques that included conventional gemological examination, chemical composition, spectroscopy, spectrometry and microscopy. Harbor Branch and GIA plan to jointly publish the results of these trials in an upcoming issue of GIA’s scientific journal, Gems & Gemology.
Photo Caption of the Conch: The queen conch is the largest molluscan gastropod of the six conch species found in the shallow seagrass beds of Florida, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Caribbean Islands, and the northern coasts of Central and South America.
Photos of the Queen Conch Cultured Pearls: Conch pearls are formed by concentric layers of fibrous crystals, and this layering often produces the desired flame structure (Image #5), which is characteristic of conch pearls. The pearls have a porcelain finish and luster like the interior of the conch shell, and come in a wide variety and combination of colors including white, red, pink, orange, yellow and brown. Queen conch pearls are measured in carats like traditional gemstones.
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