Not that new kind of pearl

Rose Alene McArthur makes an interesting observation about the �new
kind of pearl� featured in my recent Orchid post. Her reference to
�a big flame pearl� from Vietnam points out some confusion that has
arisen about the 100.48-carat Conch pearl - in places as lofty as
the GIA.

Here is some for Rose and other Orchid readers about
those big Vietnam pearls. Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam, was
an ardent admirer of Melo pearls and possessed a substantial
collection of them.

Melo pearls come from the Indian Volute, or Melo Melo, often
referred to as the �bailer shell.� You can find reddish orange Melo
shell specimens in shell shops around the world. Melo Melo abound
off the eastern coast of Vietnam, and some live into the hundreds of
years, apparently due to a friendly environment. While the Volutes
(Volutidae) are of a different family than Conch (Strombidae,) they
also can produce large non-nacreous pearls. These are typically
bright orange in color and also exhibit the �flame effect� found in
Conch pearls.

In 1999, Christie�s in Hong Kong sold a 23.0 x 19.35 mm Melo pearl
for USD 488,800. After that, orange Melo pearls began to appear out
of nowhere, which drove the price down to the tens of thousands of
dollars for a pearl weighing eighty or more carats. Hey, try
matching a florescent orange pearl to your evening wear collection

The largest Melo pearl in Bao Dai�s collection is now for sale in
Taiwan. You can see several excellent pictures of this 397.52-carat
behemoth at the current owner�s website
( Many of the other
specimens in Bao Dai�s collection were featured in the July 1997
issue of Smithsonian Magazine. Several photographs of these bright
orange pearls may be viewed at the Smithsonian website

Gems and Gemology editor-in-chief Alice Keller suggested that the
Conch pearl featured in my (rejected) submission to her magazine
might possibly be a Melo pearl. Here is where the confusion arises.
Both Melo and Conch pearls exhibit a �flame effect� and are
non-nacreous. Both are found in Southeast Asia. Melo pearls are
apparently as common as orange golf balls. The giveaway to the
truth, however, can be found in their specific gravity. Conch pearls
have a much higher specific gravity than Melo pearls. Alice declined
to address this issue.

The problem with Horse conch pearls is that they are very, very
rare. The one featured in my Orchid post is even more rare due to
the fact that it is from an albino Horse conch. Most Horse conch
pearls (that I know of) are of a deep red color. An example of a
rare 27mm red Horse conch pearl, set in a fabulous spider brooch,
can be found at

The albino Horse conch pearl�s owners in Hong Kong provided me with
a clue to just how rare this item is, and why I started writing
about it The current high bid for this unusual pearl is USD
2,700,000. I have no way to verify this figure, but if true - it
points out that it is certainly not a Melo pearl.

Somebody out there knows exactly what it is and is willing to pay an
extraordinary price for it.

Thank you Rose Alene McArthur for providing the perfect opportunity
for me to address the confusion that has arisen over this �new kind
of pearl.�

Randolph Post

Okay, if you did not follow the link in Randolph’s post you NEED to!!! I had NO
idea pearls could be so huge!

I have enjoyed this whole discussion immensly, as I am a shell
collector of sorts (running out of room for them all ), so this
combines two passions.

Randolph - you might try submitting your article to the Smithsonian
magazine! It sounds like it might be something they would be
interested in.

Best wishes.
Beth in SC