Back to a World of Jewelry
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CONCH PEARL:

CHAPTER 2 - SLEEPING BEAUTY


As part of Shira Ghaffari’s series of articles exploring the jewelry world, Federico Niki Vescovi delves into the peculiar history of the conch pearls.


As we’ve seen in the first chapter, conch pearl’s history is quite unique: forgotten for centuries it enjoyed a very short period of popularity that spanned less than 100 years between the mid 19th century and early 20th, before falling into oblivion again in the 1930’s.

Needless to say the revival of interest for the gem has been rather singular too and the main reason can be found in its rarity, but before delving into the rebirth of the conch pearl it’s important to put it into context.

The 20th century could be easily defined as the the turning point of the pearl market and it’s all because of a Japanese farmer, more commonly known as the legendary entrepreneur Mr. Kōkichi Mikimoto: the creator of cultured pearls.

Before pearls could be bred in large quantities, professional divers had to go through great lengths, often risking their own lives, to find naturally formed gems, hence good quality pearls were extremely rare.

ama girl japanes pearl diver picture

"Ama girl", Japanese pearl diver.

kokichi mikimoto picture

Mr. Kōkichi Mikimoto.

Expensive and loved by royalty, they were displayed as a status symbol since ancient times, but the advent of pearl farming changed everything: suddenly the rising middle class of the 20th century could afford this beautiful gem and prices declined sensibly.

queen victoria picture

Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom.

old mikimoto advertisment

Old Mikimoto printed advertisment.

Neglected conch pearls were left out from the booming cultured pearl market, making them the only significant species to still be found just through traditional methods.

Such peculiarity placed the conch pearl in a league of its own, though interest was very scarce leaving it like a sleeping beauty waiting to be woken at the right moment.

ryo yamaguchi picture

Mr. Ryo Yamaguchi.

This event occurred in the late 1980’s when Mr. Ryo Yamaguchi, general director of Mikimoto at that time, after meeting, Mrs. Susan Hendrickson, renowned American explorer and incredible conch pearl collector, realised that they offered a great opportunity and decided to invest in the creation of exquisite pieces set with the rare gem.

In the next decade Mikimoto became the main buyer of conch pearls, acquiring from Mrs. Hendrickson, who by then had turned her passion into a flourishing business, over 8.000 gems and designing hundreds of custom pieces: an ironic achievement given that the company was synonymous with cultured pearls.

susan hendrickson picture
Mrs. Susan Hendrickson.
conch pearl necklace by mikimoto

Conch pearl necklace, Mikimoto.

conch pearl brooch by mikimoto

Conch pearl brooch, Mikimoto.

Such phenomenon revamped the conch pearl market and this meant that Mr. Yamaguchi wasn’t the only one to express interest in the pink gem: in 1990 Mr. Fred Leighton, a famous New York jeweller, took fancy in conch pearls, conceiving in the following years over 100 pieces, mostly in belle-epoque style.

conch pearl earrings by fred leighton

Conch pearl earrings, Fred Leighton.

Another early advocate of the gem was, from the old-world, Italian master jeweller Gianmaria Buccellati, who created, in 1993, an important series featuring conch pearls set in wonderful renaissance style jewels.

conch pearl pendant with earrings by buccellati

Conch pearl pendant with earrings, Gianmaria Buccellati.

Jewelry designers and customers all over the world, evoking the excitement of the art nouveau era, were suddenly drawn towards the beauty and incredible rarity of conch pearls.

Tiffany, despite the gem’s renewed demand and its peerless conch pearl heritage, was a latecomer;  nevertheless, after a long wait, chose to revive Mr. Farnham spirit, unveiling in 2004 a refined 26 piece collection inspired by their pioneering designs of the early 1900’s.

conch pearl brooch by tiffany

Conch pearl brooch, Tiffany & Co..

conch pearl earrings by tiffany

Conch pearl earrings, Tiffany & Co..

In Japan, in the wake of Mikimoto’s success, Kashikey, a diamond wholesaler based in the city of Tokyo, became the second Japanese firm to market the gem, crafting pieces featuring conch pearls marketed as “gift from the sea”.

Over the following years, conch pearls started to appear more and more often in collections designed by jewellers scattered around the globe, quickly becoming a favourite of small independent firms like, Munich based, Hemmerle, owned by Mr. Stefan Hemmerle.

conch pearl earrings by hemmerle

Conch pearl earrings, Hemmerle.

conch pearl ring by hemmerle

Conch pearl ring, Hemmerle.

However this moment didn’t last long because paradoxically the circumstances which led to its rediscovery are the very same that today are destining the conch pearl to become a gem of exceptional rarity.

Although demand has been firmly revived, there is a natural shortage of abundance; this explains why Mikimoto, under a new leadership, a few years ago chose to change Yamaguchi’s strategy, confining conch pearls to high-jewelry pieces: there is simply not enough supply.

conch pearl ring by mikimoto

Conch pearl ring, Mikimoto.

History has shown us that conch pearls in the past have had a tendency to surface very briefly before falling under the radar, however this time there is a silver lining: their refined and pure beauty has become so highly desired by master jewelers and fine collectors that is placing them alongside exceptional gems such as Burmese rubies and Kashmir sapphires, securing their future for years to come.

Milan, 2021

SHARE THIS ARTICLE


SOURCES
  • The Pink Pearl, A Natural Treasure of the Carribbean, Skira, 2007.
  • Mikimoto, Assouline, 2008.
  • Christie's.
  • Sotheby's.
  • Phillips.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Federico Niki Vescovi fine jewelry advisor profile photo shira ghaffari executive team
Federico Niki Vescovi

Fine Jewelry Advisor & Operations Director

Born and raised in the fine jewelry world, after studying law, Federico decided to pursue is passion for the fine arts. He joined the firm in 2015 and over the years acquired valuable professional expertise helping international clients grow and strengthen their position in the fine jewelry market.

Federico's thirst for knowledge and desire to be constantly up-to-date on market trends and new technologies whilst protecting cultural heritage have made him, over the years, a resourceful advisor with talented strategic thinking.

 


WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR ORDER MANAGEMENT SERVICE?

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR ORDER MANAGEMENT SERVICE?


TITLE
SUBTITLE

BODY: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum."


LOCATION

MASTER GOLDSMITHS NETWORK

JEWELRY DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT

LOCATION

MASTER GOLDSMITHS NETWORK

JEWELRY DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT


Back to a World of Jewelry
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CONCH PEARL:

CHAPTER 2 - SLEEPING BEAUTY


As part of Shira Ghaffari’s series of articles exploring the jewelry world, Federico Niki Vescovi delves into the peculiar history of the conch pearls.


As we’ve seen in the first chapter, conch pearl’s history is quite unique: forgotten for centuries it enjoyed a very short period of popularity that spanned less than 100 years between the mid 19th century and early 20th, before falling into oblivion again in the 1930’s.

Needless to say the revival of interest for the gem has been rather singular too and the main reason can be found in its rarity, but before delving into the rebirth of the conch pearl it’s important to put it into context.

The 20th century could be easily defined as the the turning point of the pearl market and it’s all because of a Japanese farmer, more commonly known as the legendary entrepreneur Mr. Kōkichi Mikimoto: the creator of cultured pearls.

Before pearls could be bred in large quantities, professional divers had to go through great lengths, often risking their own lives, to find naturally formed gems, hence good quality pearls were extremely rare.

ama girl pearl japanese diver

"Ama girl", Japanese pearl diver.

kokichi mikimoto picture

Mr. Kōkichi Mikimoto.

Expensive and loved by royalty, they were displayed as a status symbol since ancient times, but the advent of pearl farming changed everything: suddenly the rising middle class of the 20th century could afford this beautiful gem and prices declined sensibly.

queen victoria picture

Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom.

old mikimoto advertisment

Old Mikimoto printed advertisment.

Neglected conch pearls were left out from the booming cultured pearl market, making them the only significant species to still be found just through traditional methods.

Such peculiarity placed the conch pearl in a league of its own, though interest was very scarce leaving it like a sleeping beauty waiting to be woken at the right moment.

ryo yamaguchi picture

Mr. Ryo Yamaguchi.

This event occurred in the late 1980’s when Mr. Ryo Yamaguchi, general director of Mikimoto at that time, after meeting, Mrs. Susan Hendrickson, renowned American explorer and incredible conch pearl collector, realised that they offered a great opportunity and decided to invest in the creation of exquisite pieces set with the rare gem.

In the next decade Mikimoto became the main buyer of conch pearls, acquiring from Mrs. Hendrickson, who by then had turned her passion into a flourishing business, over 8.000 gems and designing hundreds of custom pieces: an ironic achievement given that the company was synonymous with cultured pearls.

susan hendrickson picture
Mrs. Susan Hendrickson.
conch pearl necklace by mikimoto

Conch pearl necklace, Mikimoto.

conch pearl brooch by mikimoto

Conch pearl brooch, Mikimoto.

Such phenomenon revamped the conch pearl market and this meant that Mr. Yamaguchi wasn’t the only one to express interest in the pink gem: in 1990 Mr. Fred Leighton, a famous New York jeweller, took fancy in conch pearls, conceiving in the following years over 100 pieces, mostly in belle-epoque style.

conch pearl earrings by fred leighton

Conch pearl earrings, Fred Leighton.

Another early advocate of the gem was, from the old-world, Italian master jeweller Gianmaria Buccellati, who created, in 1993, an important series featuring conch pearls set in wonderful renaissance style jewels.

conch pearl pendant with earrings by buccellati

Conch pearl pendant with earrings, Gianmaria Buccellati.

Jewelry designers and customers all over the world, evoking the excitement of the art nouveau era, were suddenly drawn towards the beauty and incredible rarity of conch pearls.

Tiffany, despite the gem’s renewed demand and its peerless conch pearl heritage, was a latecomer;  nevertheless, after a long wait, chose to revive Mr. Farnham spirit, unveiling in 2004 a refined 26 piece collection inspired by their pioneering designs of the early 1900’s.

conch pearl brooch by tiffany

Conch pearl brooch, Tiffany & Co..

conch pearl earrings by tiffany

Conch pearl earrings, Tiffany & Co..

In Japan, in the wake of Mikimoto’s success, Kashikey, a diamond wholesaler based in the city of Tokyo, became the second Japanese firm to market the gem, crafting pieces featuring conch pearls marketed as “gift from the sea”.

Over the following years, conch pearls started to appear more and more often in collections designed by jewellers scattered around the globe, quickly becoming a favourite of small independent firms like, Munich based, Hemmerle, owned by Mr. Stefan Hemmerle.

conch pearl earrings by hemmerle

Conch pearl earrings, Hemmerle.

conch pearl ring by hemmerle

Conch pearl ring, Hemmerle.

However this moment didn’t last long because paradoxically the circumstances which led to its rediscovery are the very same that today are destining the conch pearl to become a gem of exceptional rarity.

Although demand has been firmly revived, there is a natural shortage of abundance; this explains why Mikimoto, under a new leadership, a few years ago chose to change Yamaguchi’s strategy, confining conch pearls to high-jewelry pieces: there is simply not enough supply.

conch pearl ring by mikimoto

Conch pearl ring, Mikimoto.

History has shown us that conch pearls in the past have had a tendency to surface very briefly before falling under the radar, however this time there is a silver lining: their refined and pure beauty has become so highly desired by master jewelers and fine collectors that is placing them alongside exceptional gems such as Burmese rubies and Kashmir sapphires, securing their future for years to come.

Milan, 2021

SHARE THIS ARTICLE


SOURCES
  • The Pink Pearl, A Natural Treasure of the Carribbean, Skira, 2007.
  • Mikimoto, Assouline, 2008.
  • Christie's.
  • Sotheby's.
  • Phillips.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Federico Niki Vescovi fine jewelry advisor profile photo shira ghaffari executive team
Federico Niki Vescovi

Fine Jewelry Advisor & Operations Director

Born and raised in the fine jewelry world, after studying law, Federico decided to pursue is passion for the fine arts. He joined the firm in 2015 and over the years acquired valuable professional expertise helping international clients grow and strengthen their position in the fine jewelry market.

Federico's thirst for knowledge and desire to be constantly up-to-date on market trends and new technologies whilst protecting cultural heritage have made him, over the years, a resourceful advisor with talented strategic thinking.

 


OUR ORDER MANAGEMENT SERVICE


TITLE
SUBTITLE

BODY: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum."