A New Kind of Pearl
Seldom does one hear of a new kind of pearl these days. You might
expect this story to be about a new kind of cultured pearl. But this
is not the case, this is about a new kind of natural pearl.
First, let?s review the anecdotal data. When fishermen working in
the Andaman Sea off the southern coast of Burma pulled in their net,
they found a huge mollusk inside. The fishermen, who are of Chinese
ancestry, were not the least bit surprised at netting a seabed
dweller. They believe an old Chinese legend that roughly translates
Under the full moon?s silver light, pearl-makers abandon the deep,
rising to endless waves.
There gently they sway, in a bond of light with pure moon rays!
It was, after all, taken on the night of the full moon of Waso.
They were surprised indeed by the fact that the mollusk shell was
right turning, and that the animal weighed two hundred and eighty
three pounds. The shell was cr?me white in color with bright yellow
markings. The fishermen estimated the age of the mollusk to be,
"many hundreds of years."
The biggest surprise of all was the huge pearl that they found
inside the animal. Cr?me white in color, the pearl exhibited a
unique ?flame effect? around it?s circumference. Within minutes, the
fishermen began to bargain for the pearl, and one of them bought the
rights of all the others. The Chinese are very good businessmen.
Burma has in recent years laid claim to the discoveries of some of
the world?s largest gems. For example: the world?s largest nacreous
pearl at 450 carats, the world's largest peridot at 329 carats, the
world's largest ruby, a staggering 21,450 carats, and the world's
largest sapphire, a 63,000-carat colossus. Then of course there is
the world's largest jade dyke. Covered with glittering green and
violet colored serpentine crystal, the jadeite monolith weighs 3,000
Strangely enough, all of these fabulous gems were donated to the
Burmese state, or I should say the State Peace and Development
Council. This is the fancy name of the repressive military junta
that rules Burma, or Myanmar as they like to call it.
But the fisherman of our story had other ideas, and quietly shipped
the mollusk pearl out of the country to Hong Kong. There it was
examined by Hong Kong Gems Laboratory Ltd.
The lab findings are that the pearl weighs 100.48 carats, has a
diameter of 23.37 - 24.54 mm, and a specific gravity of 2.839. The
pearl has a ?smooth surface but natural regular flame marking can be
seen on the surface, internal concentric structure can be more or
less observed. The conclusion of the lab is that the object is a
?natural conch pearl.?
The fisherman already knew that the pearl was from a Horse conch.
What he did not realize was that he owned the world?s largest conch
This pearl is more than double the size of the previous record
holder, a 45 carat pink queen conch pearl, now part of a jewelry
ensemble created by Harry Winston (see the cover of Gems and
Gemology, winter 1987.)
Well, if it?s a conch pearl, what?s so new about it?
Not everyone agrees that it is a conch pearl. This is where
controversy rears its head.
Not too long ago, I submitted an article on the conch pearl to Gems
and Gemology magazine. In her summary rejection of the article,
editor-in-chief Alice Keller wondered, ??whether this non-nacreous
pearl (as GIA refers to them) would qualify as a conch "pearl,"
inasmuch as it was not found in the Caribbean or, presumably, in a
Strombus Gigas (by definition the host of a conch "pearl").
I had to think about that one for a while. Since when does a pearl
of the conch have to be from the Caribbean AND from a Strombus
Gigas to be a conch pearl? Are only black bears to be called bears?
Well, I had to appreciate that this is the attitude of those who
deal with gems, particularly from a commercial viewpoint. This
probably makes good sense for jewelers, that way everybody knows
that a ?conch pearl? is pink, rare, and from the few remaining
Strombus Gigas in the Caribbean. But to a marine biologist this
viewpoint is laughable. Most of the varieties of conch do not live
in the Caribbean Sea. A lot of them do live in Indo-Pacific waters,
of which the Andaman Sea is a part. All varieties of conch can
produce pearls, although they do it very rarely. In the case of
Strombus Gigas it is one for every fifty thousand. It would seem
that for the Horse conch it is one... period.
Does that mean that it is a new kind of pearl? Or does he GIA and
the jewelry trade have its conch pearl attitude on backwards?
If you believe the former, just what should we call this new kind of
pearl? If you believe the latter, then we are talking about the
world?s largest conch pearl. That?s why this article is on this
forum, to let jewelry designers and manufacturers decide just what
this pearl is.
The matter has already been before marine biology forums, and you
can just imagine what they had to say. They also raised the point
that some in the gem trade regard non-nacreous pearls as not being
pearls at all, rather they are ?calcareous concretions.? The general
consensus among the marine biologists that gave an opinion, however,
was that pearls of the conch are conch pearls, and that pearls are
pearls whether they contain nacre or not. Or, as cited by Fritsch
and Misiorowski in ?The History and Gemology of Queen Conch Pearls?
(Gems and Gemology, winter 1987) ?Pearls are calcareous concretions
that are formed from the shell material and grown naturally in a
pearl sac of a molluscan animal. This definition implies that conch
pearls are indeed true pearls.? Misiorowski, by the way, was with
the GIA when this article was written.
What do you think? Is it a pearl? Is it a conch pearl? Is it a new
kind of pearl? If so, what should we call it? Should I be looking
for a good shrink?
If you would like to receive a high resolution .jpg photo of the
pearl to assist in your analysis, just drop a simple email request
to [email protected]
_Post-- and it will be on its way to you. I would
like to hear the opinion of all interested parties on this forum.
By the way, horses do not have pearls, so ?Horse pearl? is out.