For more than twenty five years researchers and marine experts have attempted to produce cultured conch pearls. Not until recently has anyone been successful. Two marine biologists at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at
Considered among the rarest pearls in the world, all previous attempts at seeding conchs failed. Far rarer than the finest Akoya pearl, it takes about 10,000 queen conchs to find even one conch pearl, and only 1 in 100 of those is gem quality. But, thanks to the diligent research efforts of Doctor Megan Davis, associate executive director at Harbor Branch, and Doctor Héctor Acosta-Salmón, a new, innovative method of seeding the queen conch now produces an 80 percent success rate.
“For years I lived in the
Heading back to the states to continue her research, Dr. Davis brought her extensive experience to the Harbor Branch scientific team in
“I hired Hector for his experience with pearl oysters and challenged him to work with me to develop these techniques with conch. I knew the animal, he knew pearl oysters. Together we created a breakthrough in the seeding and retention process,” states
Although any conch, male or female, can produce a pearl,
Today, their two years and nearly $500,000 worth of research produces cultivated conch pearls, both nucleated and non-nucleated, at least 80 percent of the time. With colors that vary in shades of creamy white, pink, coral and orange, the cultivated conch pearls are expected to follow the oyster pearl market going for one-third to one-half the price of natural conch pearls.
Working closely with GIA in grading and classification aided the process. Unlike oyster pearls, conch pearls are measured by the carat; in their natural environment most average less than 3 carats making anything larger a rare find.
Because they are so rare, finding natural conch pearls that match in size or color is extremely time consuming, difficult and expensive.
“We are excited about this breakthrough not only because it will draw significant attention to the entire conch pearl market, but also because consumers will be able to obtain pearls that match in size and color easier than before. We foresee an extensive market for both the natural and cultured conch pearl industry,” states
Looking ahead, Dr. Davis wants to educate the general public about conch pearls while, at the same time, establishing a privately-held company called Rose Pearl with Dr. Acosta-Salmón and other partners. Her goal is to generate a steady supply of cultivated conch pearls. It takes one year to make a two or three carat conch pearl, which is about the size of a green pea. But with 200 pearls already produced from her research and GIA’s grading process finalized, the only thing Dr. Davis needs is funding to get Rose Pearl running at full speed.
“The most exciting part to all of this is that there will be a market for both the natural and cultured conch pearl. The natural pearl will benefit from having the cultured pearl on the market because it will highlight its value.”