Rare Quahog Pearls Discovered Accidentally - Krensavage Pearl, George and Leslie Brock Pearl, Bob Anderson Pearl, Conor O'Neal Pearl

 

Lareef A. Samad B.Sc (Hons)

Introduction

Quahog pearls are rare non-nacreous pearls produced by the saltwater clam Mercenaria mercenaria

Quahog (KO-hog) pearls are rare non-nacreous pearls produced by the saltwater clam Mercenaria mercenaria (Venus mercenaria), whose natural habitat is the Atlantic coastline of North America, from Canada's Gulf of Saint Lawrence to Florida, and extending to the Gulf of Mexico, and particularly abundant between Cape Cod in Massachusetts and New Jersey. The Quahog clams were known to ancient Algonquin Indians, who used their meat as a source of food, and their shells for ornamentation  and a form of currency known as "wampam." In fact the name "quahog" is derived from the Algonquin Indian name for this clam, "Poquauhock." Apart from their use as food, ornamentation and form of currency, Quahog clams also produce extremely rare non-nacreous pearls, in a range of colors, such as white, pale lilac to purple, tan, brown and black. The occurrence of gem-quality quahog pearls have been estimated by pearl experts to be around one in 2 million, which is indeed very, very, rare. The extreme rarity of the pearl explains why not many gem-quality quahog pearls are known in the world today. The quahog pearls are so scarce that not even the international gem and pearl trade are in a position to give a proper appraisal of these rare natural beauties from Atlantic coast of America, in a world that is dominated today by bead-nucleated cultured pearls.

Satellite View of North Atlantic Coastline of North America, natural habitat of the Quahog clam, Mercenaria mercenaria

Satellite View of North Atlantic Coastline of North America, natural habitat of the Quahog clam, Mercenaria mercenaria

The unfair technical definition of "true pearls" that excludes the rare and beautiful purple quahog pearls

Part of the problem of the quahog pearl being relegated to a secondary position in the world of natural pearls today, is the unfair technical definition of pearls adhered to by gemologists, and the international who's who of the trade, including dealers and producers of cultured pearls. According to this definition "true pearls" are those pearls covered by a nacreous layer, that show the property of luster and iridescence caused by nacre, and produced by saltwater oysters and freshwater mussels. This definition automatically excludes all non-nacreous pearls produced by other Mollusks, such as clams, conches, scallops, melo-melo snails etc, even though pearls produced by some conches, quahog clams and melo-melo sea snails show a spectacular shimmering chatoyant effect, that exceeds the luster and iridescence of some low-grade nacreous pearls. The beauty of some non-nacreous pearls are not second in anyway to the most beautiful nacreous pearls. Thus, the definition of the word "pearl" as applied in the international gem and jewelry trade, has unfairly excluded some of the most beautiful specimens of quahog pearls, ever discovered in the history of mankind, and thus denied the owners of these rare beauties a reasonable value, commensurate with their beauty and rarity.

Intense orange Melo Melo pearl, a non-nacreous pearl, whose shimmering flame structure surpasses the beauty and iridescent effect of some nacreous pearls

Intense orange Melo Melo pearl, a non-nacreous pearl, whose shimmering flame structure surpasses the beauty and iridescent effect of some nacreous pearls


Queen Mary Conch Pearl Brooch - The flame structure associated with the two conch pearls surpass the iridescence of some nacreous pearls

©Smithsonian Institution


Rare Spherical Quahog pearl with a shimmering effect surpassing the beauty of some iridescent nacreous pearls

Rare Spherical Quahog pearl with a shimmering effect surpassing the beauty of some iridescent nacreous pearls

Photo courtsey -Imperial-Deltah Inc

 

Many rare quahog pearls are discovered accidentally either during the shucking of clams or while eating a prepared clam dish

The quahog clam continues to be a staple of the Eastern seafood market, as it had been for hundreds of years before. Baked clams, steamers and chowder are favorite dishes all over the eastern states. Unfortunately, any rare quahog pearl that perhaps would have been found in the clams, were invariably destroyed by the mechanical cleaning and shucking process. In spite of this many rare quahog pearls have been discovered by unsuspecting customers, while enjoying a delicious dish of clams, at sea food restaurants they had patronized. The George and Leslie Brock Pearl, is one such rare quahog pearl discovered accidentally in a restaurant. However, most of the accidental discoveries seem to have taken place only during home processing of the clams, prior to cooking during the cleaning process, such as the Krensavage Pearl.

 

Some rare quahog pearls discovered accidentally

Some of the rare quahog pearls discovered accidentally either during eating of prepared clam dishes or home processing of clams, are :-

1) Bob Anderson Pearl - discovered in 2002

2) Krensavage Pearl - discovered in 2005

3) George and Leslie Brock Pearl - discovered in 2007

4) Connor O'Neal Pearl - discovered in 2009

 

1) Bob Anderson Pearl

The location of Wychmere Harbor

Bob Anderson , living at 26 Old Homestead Way, used to dig for quahog clams at Wychmere Harbor  as a pastime bringing the clams home to prepare his favorite clam dish. Wychmere Harbor, is one of the three most beautiful harbors in Harwich Port, in Barnstable County, Cape Cod, Massachusetts State in the Northeastern United States, the other two harbors being Allen Harbor and Saquatucket Harbor. Harwich is a lower Cape Cod town situated at the elbow of Cape Cod. The Cape Cod Bay, and the bays and harbors south of the Cape Cod are well known for the abundance of quahog clams.


Satellite Picture of Cape Cod and Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts, USA

 

The circumstances that led to the discovery of the pearl

That day in November 2002, turned out to be a very special day for Bob Anderson, and as usual he returned home with his find of quahog clams. Then he set about  the manual cleaning and shucking of his clams, and halfway through the process, he heard something hard hit the bottom of the sink. His inquisitiveness aroused, Bob Anderson, began investigating the cause of the sound, and to his greatest shock and surprise it turned out to be a very dark and smooth, rare, purple pearl from one of the quahog clams. Bob Anderson had heard about  quahog pearls and their extreme rarity, but had never dreamt that one day he would be the lucky finder of one of these rare beauties.

Bob Anderson quahog pearl and the shell in which it was found

Bob Anderson quahog pearl and the shell in which it was found

Some of the features of the pearl

Bob Anderson's quahog pearl appears to be a smooth spherical pearl in the photograph of the pearl, but its dimensions are given as 9.8 mm and 7.1 mm, which obviously refers to two of its diameters. Thus the pearl is most probably a round button shaped pearl, which is the next preferred shape after the perfectly spherical pearl. The dimension of the clam shell from which the pearl originated is 69.2 mm across. The dark-purple color of the pearl is a very rare color indeed, and this coupled with its smooth surface and luster, makes it an extremely rare find.

At the time he discovered the pearl in 2002, Bob Anderson was not decided on exactly what he would do with his rare find, but was planning to retain ownership of the pearl, getting it set either on a ring or a pendant, two ideal pieces of jewelry for setting a round button shaped pearl.

 

 

2) The Krensavage Pearl

Rhode Island renowned for its purple quahog pearls

The Krensavage Pearl is another quahog pearl discovered accidentally by Ted and Barbara Krensavage in 2005, during the cleaning and shucking of quahog clams. The pearl was discovered in New Port, Rhode Island, one of the states of New England, in northeastern United States, renowned for the occurrence of purple quahog pearls. One of the world's best known quahog pearls, "The Pearl of Venus" which is the centerpiece of the Alan Golash Brooch, which also incorporates a second drop-shaped purple quahog pearl, is believed to have originated also in Rhode Island.

 

The circumstances that led to the discovery of the pearl

Barbara Krensavage did not have a particular liking for clam dishes, except for the irresistible craving for clams casino, which she had tasted the previous night, and was the cause of her venturing out again, one Friday afternoon in early December 2005, despite the severe blizzard and falling trees that made her mission dangerous. The sole purpose of her mission was to collect more clams from a Newport seafood restaurant, in order to satisfy her craving. She returned with around four dozen quahog clams, which her husband Thaddeus "Ted" Krensavage, an anesthesiologist at Morton Hospital & Medical Center, in Taunton, set about cleaning and shucking. Halfway through the shucking he picked up a shellfish that looked like a rotten clam. Yet he decided to open it to verify its nature before discarding it. On opening the clam, Ted noticed a tiny purplish object, but it never occurred to him that it could be a pearl, for he had never heard of pearls occurring in clams, and thought that the clam was diseased. He scraped the contents on to a plate of discarded clam shells, and was ready to throw it away, when his wife Barbara walked in. Ted and Barbara's interview given to Tracy Smith of CBS/Early Show, captures the excitement of the moment. Ted said, "As I opened it, I noticed this. I didn't know what it was. A hard thing that isn't supposed to be in clams, I knew or thought anyway. And I scraped it into a plate of discarded clam shells, and was planning on throwing it out. Then Barbara came over."

Barbara continuing the story where Ted had left off, said, "I said, 'Let me see that thing, It might be a pearl!' " Closer examination revealed, that the purple object was indeed a perfectly round brilliant-purple pearl, about the size of a large pea.

 

The uncertainty surrounding the valuation of the pearl

Ted and Barbara searched the world wide web for more information on their purple pearl, and soon they realized that what they had stumbled upon was indeed a natural treasure, an extremely rare quahog pearl, with the desired characteristics such as the purple color and the perfectly round shape. They further discovered that only a handful of such pearls existed in the world today, so much so that Ted's attempts to get an exact valuation of the pearl proved extremely difficult as most gemologists and appraisers had not come across such a pearl, and had no idea about its value, as the pearl was new to the trade. Ted was non-committal about the future plans for his rare find, when he said, "If it is worth $10,000, we'll probably keep it, it'll be a family treasure. But if it's worth more than a quarter million, we might put it up for auction." A clear reflection of the uncertainty surrounding the valuation of quahog pearls, however beautiful and rare they might be.

 

Some of the characteristics of the pearl

The most striking features of the pearl according to its descriptions, are the deep-purple color, the perfectly spherical shape and its brilliant luster. Pale Lilac to deep-purple colors are the most desired colors in quahog pearls. The most renowned quahog pearl in the world,  the 14 mm round-button "Pearl of Venus" which is the centerpiece of the Alan Golash brooch, has a medium-deep lilac color. The deep-purple color of the Krensavage pearl also falls within the desired color range. The perfectly spherical shape of the Krensavage pearl is the most desired shape for any pearl, and in this respect it is superior to the "Pearl of Venus." However, the size and weight of the pearl is said to be only about half the size and weight of the "Pearl of Venus." The brilliant luster of the pearl, seem to be associated with its  chatoyant effect known as the "flame structure," as the pearl is non-nacreous without a nacre.

For Photographs Of The Krensavage Pearl Please Click Here (External Link)

The Krensavage pearl mounted on a gold ring is given as a gift to Michael Krensavage by his parents for getting good grades

Ted and Barbara Krensavage got their rare find temporarily mounted on a gold ring, which they presented to their eleven-year old son Michael for getting good grades. Michael who is proud of the priceless gift given to him by his parents says that he doesn't want to sell the pearl, "When would they ever buy a million dollar gem? If you have one, just keep it. We are not selling it."

 

The value of exceptionally beautiful quahog pearls unfairly tied down to the archaic definition of pearls

Antoinette Matlins, author of "The Pearl Book : the Definitive Buying Guide" who had the opportunity of examining the Alan Gholash Brooch mounted with the "Pearl of Venus" and had called the gem "an extremely rare creation" and subsequently accompanied the pearl for the 2005 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, where it received accolades for its rarity and beauty, predicted that the Krensavage pearl going by its description might be valued in the thousands of dollars, even before getting an opportunity to examine the pearl. But, she cautioned that the estimate could rise even further, depending on the outcome of the auction of the Alan Golash pearl brooch that was due to go under the hammer in Hong Kong, after the exhibition of the brooch in the American Museum of Natural History's traveling exhibition, "Pearls : A Natural History" was completed in March 2008. This was because quahog pearls being extremely rare had no historical precedence in pricing, and the high quality Golash quahog pearls were expected to set the benchmark for the valuation of quahog pearls in the future. However, more than an year has passed since the expected period of sale of the Golash Quahog Pearl Brooch,  and there is no word yet on the sale of the brooch. It appears that the fate of the Golash Quahog Pearl Brooch is still tied down to the archaic definition of pearls adopted by the international pearl trade, that unfairly excludes exceptionally beautiful non-nacreous pearls such as the Golash quahog pearls and the Krensavage pearl.

 

 

3) George and Leslie Brock Pearl

The George and Leslie Brock Pearl was discovered accidentally when enjoying a dish of middleneck clams

The Bob Anderson and Krensavage pearls were discovered accidentally, during the cleaning and shucking of quahog clams prior to the actual cooking process. However, the George and Leslie Brock Pearl discovered on new year's eve on December 31, 2007, was discovered accidentally by George Brock who together with his wife were enjoying a $10 plate of steamed clams at Dave's Last Resort & Raw Bar, after a day out on the beach in South Florida. The couple who were relishing their dish of middleneck clams, were almost halfway through when George Brock chomped down on something hard, and involuntarily pulled a bowl under his mouth and spat out the gritty substance. George and Leslie then peered into the bowl, and investigating the nature of the hard and gritty substance, George picked out a purplish spherical body from the bowl. He then washed it with water and to his amazement discovered that the purplish spherical body was in fact a rare purple quahog pearl, a perfect new year gift to his beloved wife Leslie. A few other customers who were also in the bar at that time, rushed to George and Leslie's table, to have a look at their accidental discovery, and were impressed by what they saw. Leslie who was overjoyed by her husband's lucky find, exclaimed, "It's like a dream. I can't believe it. I can absolutely not believe it." Their waitress couldn't believe her eyes either. She said, "I was surprised, yes. I think it's very good luck. May be it will be good luck for all of us in this new year."

 

For photographs of the George and Leslie Brock Pearl please click here (External Link)

 

Florida has emerged as one of the leading producers of hard clams by aquaculture

According to Dave's manager Tom Gerry, the restaurant obtained its supplies of clams from Apalachicola in the Panhandle of Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico. Apart from the hard clams that are harvested in the east coast, in the late 1970s three eastern states Massachusetts, New Jersey and North Carolina invested in hard clam aquaculture to meet the increase in demand for hard clams as a source of food. By the late 1980s hard clam aquaculture had spread to all the eastern coastal states from Massachusetts to Florida. Recently Florida and Virginia have emerged as the top most producers of hard clams by aquaculture. The supplies from Apalachicola may be from aquaculture sources or wild harvested hard clams.


Characteristics of the pearl

Quahog pearls of the northern waters in the region of New England, such as Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, are famous for their lilac to purple colors. These pearls have a color and luster that surpasses those of the southern warmer waters. The George and Leslie Brock Pearl lack the color and luster of the northern pearls. The color of the pearl is a pale-purple color, and the luster a medium-luster. However, the shape of the pearl is perfectly spherical, the most desired shape for any type of pearl. The size of the pearl is 6 mm, a medium sized pearl, when compared to the size of 14 mm for the "Pearl of Venus." The surface quality of the pearl is also excellent, without any blemishes, or tell tale signs of accidental biting. The pearl appears to have come out unscathed from its ordeal of steaming, followed by accidental biting.

 

Opinions expressed on the value of the George and Leslie Brock Pearl

The accidental discovery of the pearl was given wide media publicity

The accidental discovery of the George and Leslie Brock Quahog Pearl was widely reported in the print and electronic media and various opinions had been expressed by jewelers and pearl experts on the value of the rare quahog pearl, some optimistic and some pessimistic.

According to news reports George and Leslie Brock took their gem to a jewelry store across the street. The owner of the store seemed awestruck when he saw the rare purple quahog pearl. According to him he had not seen such a perfect quahog purple pearl in decades, which is not surprising given the probability of occurrence of a gem quality quahog pearl being only one in 2 million. However, it is not known whether this particular jeweler had ventured to express an opinion on the value of the pearl.

 

Antoinette Matlins optimistic opinion on the value of the pearl

Vermont Gemologist Antoinette Matlins, author of "The Pearl Book : The Definitive Buying Guide" gave a rather optimistic opinion on the value of the pearl. Commenting on the Brock's quahog pearl she said, "few are round, and few are a lovely color, so this is rare. I think they have found something precious and lovely and valuable." She further said, "The value of the Brock's pearl rests largely in an exhibit with the American Museum of Natural History - a quahog pearl brooch. The eventual auction of this quahog pearl brooch will set the tempo for pricing purple pearls in the international market." Antoinette Matlins was obviously referring to the Alan Golash pearl brooch, that incorporated as its centerpiece "The Pearl of Venus" believed to be the largest and finest quahog pearl in existence. Due to their extreme rarity historical precedence in pricing quahog pearls is virtually non-existent. Hence the need for the outcome of the auction of the Alan Golash pearl brooch.

 

A jeweler estimates the value of the pearl to be around $25,000

The Brocks then took their pearl to another jeweler who confirmed the authenticity of the pearl and estimated its value to be around $25,000. Leslie Brock appears to have obtained further valuations for the pearl,  as she  told the West Palm Beach News, Florida, "A 4-millimeter, which we initially thought it was, could possibly bring in $25,000 to $45,000. But it turned out to be a 6-millimeter."

 

The Brocks themselves seemed to be uncertain about the true value of the pearl

In spite of the optimistic opinions expressed about the pearl, the Brocks themselves seemed to be uncertain about its true value, when they told the West Palm Beach News, Florida, that if the pearl turns out to be worth a ton of money, they will sell it and invest in real estate. Otherwise, they plan to put it in a pendant and give it to their granddaughter.

 

The most pessimistic estimate of the value of the pearl

The most pessimistic estimate of the Brock's pearl came from a jeweler while answering the question, How much does an iridescent purple pearl sell for? in Yahoo! Answers. He said, "Just recently a couple found a quahog in a plate of clams at a restaurant in Florida. Their jeweler told them it was worth about $25,000. I buy and sell these pearls as a profession, and from the description and picture in the story I would estimate it to be worth less than $500.The value of quahog pearl depends on several factors. The size, the shape, the color (how deep the purple is or whether it is actually lavender), the surface quality all play a large part. A quahog can sell for $100 per carat, or even more than $1000 per carat based on these attributes. According to this professional jeweler there may be only around 20 jewelers in the United States who would be able to give an adequate valuation of quahog pearls.

 

Boost in the sale of clam dishes after the publicity given to the accidental discovery

The wide media publicity given to the Brocks accidental discovery, had a beneficial effect on the sales of the restaurant where the discovery occurred. According to the restaurant's general manager, Michael McClelland, after hearing about the Brock's find more diners ordered for clams, and almost everyday during that period, all clam dishes were sold out. The restaurant also took out an ad in a local newspaper, to encourage others to come in and try their luck, a strategy that worked until the excitement surrounding the accidental discovery died down.

 

4) Connor O'Neal Pearl

The pearl was discovered accidentally by 7-year old boy Connor O'Neal while enjoying a plate of "littlenecks."

The Connor O'Neal Pearl is the latest quahog pearl to be discovered accidentally by biting on August 24, 2009, but the discoverer this time was a young 7-year old boy, Connor O'Neal, who was to enter grade I in the fall of 2009 at the Primrose Hill School, in Rhode Island. Clams were young Connor's favorite food, and his mother Mary K. Talbot, bought a batch of littlenecks at a Barrington supermarket to satisfy the boy's taste. Mary prepared "linguini" a clam dish the boy relished. As the boy was enjoying his dish of clams, he bit something hard and spit it out, and thought it was perhaps a pearl. His suspicions were proved correct, when on investigation it turned out that what he actually spat out was a small spherical purple quahog pearl. When asked how was he so sure that it was a pearl, young Connor replied confidently, that he studied a lot of marine biology, which was confirmed by his mother, who said that the child had an encyclopedic knowledge of the oceans. When asked if he planned on doing any shell fishing to seek out other pearls, he said, "No, I don't know if I like looking for pearls. I like eating clams. They are my favorite food."

For Photograph Of The Connor O'Neil Pearl Please Click Here (External Link).

 

Characteristics of the pearl

The quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) is marketed commercially for human consumption under three main categories :- Littlenecks, Cherrystones or Middlenecks and Chowders, based on the size of their shells. Clams between 2.0 and 2.9 inches (5.0 - 7.4 cm) are known as "Little necks." Those between 3.0 and 4.0 inches (7.6 - 10.0 cm) are known as "Cherrystones," and those above 4.0 inches (10.0 cm) are known as "Chowders." The more valuable categories are the "Littlenecks" and the "Cherrystones" perhaps because they are more palatable than the "Chowders." The "Connor O'Neal" quahog pearl was discovered from a "Littleneck" whose average size is between 2.0 and 2.9 inches, when the clam is approximately about 4 years old. Most of the bigger quahog pearls, such as the "Pearl of Venus" measuring 14 mm in diameter, actually originated in the "Chowders" which are greater than 4 inches in size and more than 8 years old. Thus the "Connor O'Neal Pearl" discovered from an approximately 4-year old "Littleneck" is most probably a tiny pearl less than 5 mm in diameter. In fact photographs of the pearl show that the pearl may be between 2-4 mm in diameter. The pearl appears to be perfectly spherical and the color of the pearl a deep-purple color. The combination of spherical shape and deep-purple color, two of the most desired characteristics in quahog pearls, makes this pearl a rare find, despite its smaller size.

 

Opinion expressed by experts on the nature, rarity and value of quahog pearls.

Views expressed by Professor Michael A. Rice of University of Rhode Island

Professor Michael A. Rice, a professor of fisheries and aquaculture at the University of Rhode Island said, “Pearls in quahogs are common enough. They probably will show up in 1 in 500 or something like that. Generally the pearls are whitish. But what is very, very rare is a purple pearl from a quahog. The purple color is a genetic trait. It has to do with certain proteins that are laid down in the shell. There are areas in Narragansett Bay where the purple is very prominent.”

He further said, "The mother-of-pearl lining in quahogs is not as lustrous as a standard pearl oyster. Their consistency as gemstones is not as brilliant or shiny as an oyster pearl from Asia or the South Pacific. With a well-formed quahog pearl, there have been cases where pearls have been worth several hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, based on rarity, color, all of those sorts of things that go into the aesthetics of the pearl.”

Thus according to Professor Rice, quahog pearls are quite common (1 in 500), but the purple quahog pearl is very, very rare. In fact the occurrence of purple quahog pearls is about 1 in 100,000, out of which only 1 in 20 are gem-quality. Thus the probability of occurrence of a gem-quality purple quahog pearl is 1 in 2 million. Rhode Island is famous for its purple quahog pearls, and in certain areas such as the Narragansett Bay their occurrence is very prominent. In fact the largest and finest purple quahog pearl in existence, the "Pearl of Venus" is believed to have originated in Rhode Island. He further states that quahog pearls are actually non-nacreous pearls, lacking the luster and brilliance of oyster pearls. For a well- formed quahog pearl he gives an estimate of several hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, based on rarity, color and other factors.

 

Views expressed by Dr. Dale Leavitt, associate professor of marine biology at Roger Williams University

According to Dr. Dale Leavitt, associate professor of marine biology at Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island, "All bivalves - clams, oysters and mussels among others - can generate pearls. If the bivalve gets a bit of sand or other grit inside its shell, it relieves the irritation by covering the intruder with nacre, smooth mother-of-pearl. The purple pearls get their coloration from the usually white mother-of-pearl interior lining of the shells. Blue shells are so rare that the Indian inhabitants of the Northeast shoreline used them as currency, calling them “wampum.” And so the shell lining is known as the wampum part. Purple quahog pearls are very pleasant to look at."

In referring to the value of the quahog pearl, Dr. Leavitt further recalled, "some years ago someone found a purple quahog pearl in a jewelry consignment in Bristol, Rhode Islannd, but it didn't prove to be a hot item. Someone told them it was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they tried to sell it on eBay, but there was not much action.”

With respect to the quahog pearl found by Connor O'Neal, he said, "I would be very surprised if it had very much value."

 

Connor's family is uncertain about the value of the pearl, and plan to sell it if it is worth anything

Mary K. Talbot, mother of Connor, said that the family would check out the value of the pearl, and would sell it, if it's worth anything, and deposit the proceeds in Connor's college fund.

 

Sale of a 10 mm, 5.5-carat quahog pearl at a Bonhams auction on June 1, 2009 ?

On June 1, 2009, a rare purple quahog pearl, 10 mm in diameter and 5.5 carats in weight, was put up for auction, at a Bonhams sale held in New York. However, the pearl was not offered for sale as a separate lot, but as part of a diverse collection of natural pearls with corresponding shells. The collection assigned Lot No. 1429, consisted of 25 different pearls and their shells. The 5.5 carat, 10 mm purple quahog pearl was item no. 3 on the list. The pearls were not valued individually, but the pre-sale estimate of the entire collection was put at between $25,000 to $30,000. Dividing by 25, the average pre-sale estimate of each item on the list is between $1,000 and $1,200. This value gives a fairly accurate estimate of the Quahog pearl.

In the auction catalogue Lot No. 1429 was described as follows :-

"An astonishingly beautiful group formed over a period of several decades, including many rare and unavailable species, with a wide selection of both nacreous and non-nacreous natural pearls found in oysters, snails and various other mollusks from the Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean."

Unfortunately, there were no bidders for the lot, and it appears that the items were withdrawn from the sale.

 

The future of quahog pearls

Purple quahog pearls have not created much of an impression in the international pearl markets, but conch pearls seem to have staged a comeback.

Vagaries in the fortunes of conch pearls

Both quahog pearls and conch pearls are non-nacreous pearls. Quahog pearls, particularly the lilac to purple variety, does not seem to have created much of an impression in the international pearl markets, despite its beauty and rarity. This is in sharp contrast to Conch pearls, another non-nacreous pearl, that has staged a come back, after its earlier popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when they were incorporated in Art Nouveau and Edwardian Jewelry of the Belle Epoque period (1901-1915). Since then the popularity of Conch pearls waned, and the pearls were almost completely forgotten, particularly after the successful production of cultured Japanese Akoya pearls, in the 1920s, that wiped out the natural pearl industry in many parts of the world. However, queen conches that produced conch pearls, continued to be harvested in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, not for their conch pearls, but for their meat, which became a popular delicacy in this region, to the extent that the queen conch became an endangered, species. The continuous harvesting of queen conches, ensured a steady supply of conch pearls as a by product of the queen conch meat industry, but there were no takers for these pearls, except for the pearl enthusiasts and the collectors. One such collector of conch pearls, was Susan Hendrickson, the marine archaeologist, paleontologist, and professional diver, who is credited with the discovery of the largest, most complete and best preserved fossil skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex in 1990, in South Dakota. Susan Hendrickson built up one of the largest collections of conch pearls in the world, during her diving expeditions in the Caribbean.

 

Despite conch pearls being more common than purple quahog pearls, conch pearls have staged a comeback in the international pearl markets

The conch pearls like the purple quahog pearls are not extremely rare, the frequency of occurrence being about 1 in 10,000 queen conch snails. Out of this only in 1 in 10 are gem-quality. Thus the probability of occurrence of conch pearls is 1/10,000 x 1/10 = 1/100.000, whereas the probability of occurrence of purple quahog pearls is 1 in 2,000,000. Despite the fact that conch pearls are more common than purple quahog pearls, conch pearls have staged a recovery in the international pearl markets. This was partly due to the efforts of a single individual, Susan Hendrickson, who had gone into partnership with Georges Ruiz, the renowned Geneva-based jewelry manufacturer, to produce conch pearl jewelry and popularize their usage.

 

Other factors that are responsible for the surge in popularity of conch pearls

1) A worldwide increase in demand for natural pearls in a market dominated by cultured pearls for over eight decades.

2) The availability of conch pearls in a wide variety of colors, such as pink, white, yellow, brown and golden, and the most sought after color salmon-colored orange-pink.

3) The presence of the unique "flame structure" a type of "chatoyancy" particularly in the pinkish and whitish tones of conch pearls, that adds to their value.

4) The hardness of conch pearls, which is greater than most other pearls.

 

The popularity of purple quahog pearls goes back further in history than conch pearls

Purple quahog pearls had also been used in jewelry since Victorian times, as evidenced by the discovery of the Golash Pear Brooch in the year 2000, believed to be of mid-Victorian origin. Thus the popularity of the quahog pearls goes back further in history than conch pearls. Thus it seems to be surprising why purple quahog pearls have not made a significant impact in the international pearl markets, despite the fact that the demand for natural pearls  is now on the increase, as seen by the strong auction market for pieces containing natural pearls. Please refer to table of famous natural pearls/pearl jewelry sold at public auctions, and the prices realized, given in the following web page :- Anna Thomson Dodge/Catherine the Great Pearl Necklace.

 

The possible reasons why purple quahog pearls have failed to create an impact despite there beauty and rarity

1) The extreme rarity of the pearl - 1 in 2,000,000 - that has made the pearl relatively unknown in the international pearl markets. Usually rarity coupled with awareness increases the value of an article. Rarity alone without awareness of the potentialities, may not increase the value of an article.

2) The bias created against purple quahog pearls by an archaic definition of pearls, that gives them disparaging names such as, non-nacreous, calcareous concretions, pseudo pearls etc, whereas in fact some of the quahog pearls, have a beauty and luster that surpass most of the low-grade nacreous pearls. The iridescence of nacreous pearls which the quahog pearls lack is supplanted by the  "flame structure," a type of chatoyancy caused by microfibrils of aragonite and calcite.

3) Old prejudices die hard. The prejudice created against the quahog pearls, may not be eliminated with the best of intentions, as some renowned gemologists like Antoinette Matlins had been trying to do by educating the people about the merits of the quahog pearl, and giving the pearl its rightful place among the family of pearls. Little wonder then that the largest and finest quahog pearl in existence, the "Pearl of Venus" incorporated in the Alan Golash pearl brooch had no takers, despite its mid-Victorian provenance, when attempts were made to sell it on eBay.

4) The refusal of human nature to reconcile and accept the possibility that something worth a fortune could materialize in  commonplace food items, like littlenecks, cherrystones and chowders, which has almost become a staple food of the people of the eastern states of the United States.


Why quahog pearls need a better deal from pearl enthusiasts and the international pearl trade ?

Even though quahog pearls are non-nacreous like conch pearls, they need a better deal and recognition from pearl enthusiasts, dealers and the international pearl trade. Some of the cogent reasons why they require an immediate reappraisal can be enumerated as follows :-

1) Beauty - The overall beauty of quahog pearls, especially the lilac to purple shades of color, that are the rarest and most desirable colors in quahog pearls. Dr. Dale Leavitt, associate professor of marine biology at Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island, says that, purple quahog pearls are very pleasant to look at. This is an appropriate description of its beauty by an expert in the field.

2) Satiny Glow - Some quahog pearls have a medium luster, resembling the sheen observed on the surface of fine porcelain, that produces a rare satiny glow.

3) Flame structure - Some quahog pearls have a shimmering effect, a flame structure similar to the conch pearls, caused by microfibrils of calcite and aragonite, a type of chatoyancy. In some quahog pearls the chatoyancy is expressed as a distinct "eye" as seen on the "Pearl of Venus."

4) Extreme rarity - Quahog pearls are extremely rare. The occurrence of a gem-quality purple quahog pearl is only 1 in 2,000,000. Normally, rarity is associated with higher prices, as in the case of diamonds. Quahog pearls cannot  be an exception.

5) Durability - Quahog pearls are also durable. The quahog pearls mounted on the Alan Golash pearl brooch, which is believed to be of mid-Victorian origin, are approximately 150 years old. These pearls have retained their original beauty despite their old age, and hopefully will continue to maintain its original beauty for many more years to come, if stored under proper conditions, without exposure to excessive heat and ultraviolet radiation. 

6) Natural Pearls - All quahog pearls are natural pearls, taking as much as 4 to 8 years or more to develop. Most of the quahog pearls are discovered from "chowders" which are generally more than 8 years old.

 

Why quahog pearls need an immediate reappraisal of their value ?

In the light of the above indisputable facts, quahog pearls need an immediate reappraisal of their value, by the international gem trade, so that they are given their rightful place among the family of pearls. Reappraisal of gemstones is a common practice in gemology and the gem trade, as more facts about a gemstone emerge. Tourmalines, first discovered and appreciated as a gemstone in Sri Lanka, thousands of years ago, was considered a cheap gemstone and classified as a semi-precious stone previously, but has now been almost elevated to the status of precious stone, commanding premium prices. Such a reappraisal for quahog pearls, would give a much-needed boost for the pearl hunters and prospectors, and may result in an increase in production of these rare beauties, and stimulate scientific research to culture quahog pearls artificially, and thus increase their availability. As an initial step some of the State Governments in the northeastern United States could step in and purchase some of these extremely rare beauties from their owners, paying an enhanced price commensurate with their beauty and rarity, to be added to their own natural history museum collections. This would go a long way in boosting the prices of these rare pearls, and helping them to achieve a price level in keeping with their rarity.

 

You are welcome to discuss this post/related topics with Dr Shihaan and other experts from around the world in our FORUMS (forums.internetstones.com)

 

Back to Famous Pearls

 

Related :-

1) The Golash Quahog Pearl Brooch

2) Queen Mary Conch Pearl Brooc

 

References :-

1) Harwich Port, Massachusetts - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

2) Website of the Office of the Harwich Harbormaster - www.threeharbors.com

3) Cape Cod - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

4) Purple Pearl Was Almost Tossed - Rhode Island Man Didn't Realize What He Had : A 1-In-2-Million Find - By Brian Dakss. www.cbsnews.com

5) Clam craving led to find of rare quahog pearl - www.pearls.com

6) Couple Finds Rare Pearl in Plate of Steamed Clams - Sky News, Tuesday, January 01, 2008. www.foxnews.com

7) How much does an iridescent purple pearl sell for? - Yahoo! Answers

8) Diners Find Rare Purple Pearl In Plate of Clams - Most Popular News Stories. www.wpbf.com

9) Lucky boy finds a pearl in his linguini - By Thomas J. Morgan. Rhode Island News - Saturday, August 29, 2009.

10) Bonhams Sale 17502 - Natural History - June 1, 2009. Auction Catalogue. Lot No. 1429. Diverse Collection of Natural Pearls with Corresponding Shells. www.bonhams.com

11) The Quahog Pearl - Pearl Jam - Pearl Perspectives -by Imperial. www.pearls.com

 


Dr Shihaan Larif
Founder Internet Stones.COM

 

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