It was 1987 when I first became intrigued with the beautiful and very rare conch pearl. Also known as pink pearls, these calcareous concretions are produced by the queen conch (pronounced konk), which is found only in the warm waters of the Caribbean. The pearls produced by the queen conch are so rare that only one conch in ten thousand produces a pearl. And only one in one hundred pearls found are of gem quality.
When I first began searching for conch pearls over 30 years ago, most conch fisherman were unaware that the queen conch could produce a pearl. When the local fisherman would crack (clean) a conch, it was merely to harvest the mollusk from the shell for food. In the Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean, the pink conch is a valuable food asset. The meat is prized for it’s delicious taste in such culinary dishes as cracked conch (fried conch steaks), conch fritters, conch salad (ceviche), and conch chowder. Even the discarded and beautiful pink shells are sold to tourists for souvenirs. But it was the relatively recent discovery of the precious pink gemstones that amplified the value of the conch in Bahamian culture.
The many years I’ve spent searching and hunting throughout the Caribbean for pink pearls has provided me with much more than the thousands and thousands of carats of the precious pearls. I have been lucky enough to meet many fine local people, drink a few cold Kaliks, and share stories over freshly made conch salad with new friends. Each time I hold a pearl, I think of the love and caring of the people who found them for me.
My most recent trip to the islands in search of more beautiful pearls was a few weeks ago. Although I have visited many remote islands in the Bahamas, Belize, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, this trip took me back to McLean’s Town in the Bahamas.
Carl, a fellow fly fisherman and good friend, joined me on this latest pearl adventure. We would spend a grueling week bonefishing, trying local cuisine, drinking Bahamian beers, visiting, talking and swapping stories with the locals and, of course, searching for pink pearls.
After I returned home, we designed and made some unusual and beautiful pieces of jewelry with the pearls. Although designing and creating beautiful pieces of jewelry with the pearls is both fun and satisfying, it is the adventure of the search, the new friendships of local Bahamians, the thrill of the hunt, and discovering new island cultures that will stick with me for many years.