Sunday, March 30, 2014

Incresingly Rare Gems - Conch "Pearls"

Conch pearls are a product of the Strombus gigas or queen conch mollusk which inhabits the coral reef or grassy bottom of the Caribbean Sea. Unlike pearls from saltwater oysters or freshwater mussels that are created when nacre surrounds foreign body, conch pearls are non-nacreous (therefore not technically "pearls") and form as calcareous concretions in the conch's digestive tract. Conch pearls exhibit a matte luster similar to that of porcelain and are prized for their unique flame-like surface pattern which causes a captivating shimmer to dance across the gem. 
Loose natural conch pearl link
Live conch in shell photo credit
While the romantic pastel or sherbet pink conch pearls are most desirable, the variety of colors ranges from dark pink, peach, white to coffee brown. The below necklace (which will be auctioned by Sotheby's on April 7th) illustrates this gem's range of colors.
Necklace (with detachable bracelet) featuring thirty-six conch pearls and rondelles set with diamonds in 18KT white gold. To be sold by Sotheby's at "Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite" sale in Hong Kong on April 7th. Link
It is estimated that for every 10,000 Queen Conchs, one will find a single conch pearl and only about 1 in 100 of those are gem quality. As though they were not rare enough, declining conch populations in the Caribbean due to pollution and over-fishing (conchs are a food source) adds to the rarity and value of these gems. Attempts at culturing pearls from queen conchs has proved to be a difficult task and only recently were scientists at Florida Atlantic University successful.  
Conch pearl and diamond necklace and earrings in platinum by Mikimoto
Conch pearls were popular at the turn of the century and appear in jewelry from the Art Nouveau, Belle Epoque and Art Deco periods. A famous example from the Art Deco period is the below bracelet which belonged to Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain (1887-1969) and was commissioned in the late 1920s from Cartier. Featuring conch pearls, enamel and diamonds, the bracelet was sold at auction by Sotheby's in Geneva on November 14, 2012 for $3.4 million, more than double reserve estimates. Click here to watch David Bennett, chairman of Europe & the Middle East International Jewellery department at Sotheby's, speak about the bracelet prior to its auction.

Top left: Art Nouveau 14kt yellow gold, conch pearl and cultured pearl pendant. Sold by Neal Auction Company in 2006. Photo credit link
Top right: Belle époque necklace with conch pearls, diamonds, and platinum over gold. Available from Lang Antiques Photo credit link
Bottom: Art Deco bracelet with conch pearls, diamonds and enamel by Cartier in the 1920s and sold by Sotheby's in 2012. Photo credit link
More recently these rare gems have been used by such houses as Boucheron, Harry Winston, Hemmerle, Mikimoto, and Tiffany & Co. among others. Items featuring conch pearls usually fetch above their estimates at auction. There are four pieces of jewelry featuring conch pearls in the catalog for upcoming "Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite" sale which will take place at Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 7th and I imagine they will all sell above estimates, especially given the strength of the pearl market in Asia. 
Brooch with conch pearl and diamonds in white gold. By Hemmerle, 2004 link
Platinum, 18KT gold, conch pearl and diamond earclips by Harry Winston. Sold by Sotheby's in December 2013 link

Conch Pearl Flower Pin with pink sapphires, rubies and diamonds by TARA link

1 comment:

  1. Looking to find out what my grandmothers conch pearl ring is worth. Can you tell me where I might get a valuation on it please. My grandfather, a WWII pilot bought it for my grandmother during WWII and it is set in a 18ct gold ring.