Abalone Pearls

Abalone pearls are the most colourful of all pearls, and can be anything in the range of blues, greens, purples, silvers, pinks or a combination of all of them. Abalone shell jewellery is commonplace, and sold around the world, but the pearls that they produce are incredibly rare.



The abalone is a saltwater mollusc, mostly found in the Pacific Coast of California, but also as far as New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and south east Asia. There are roughly 56 species of abalone, plus a number of sub-species belonging to the same family.


Abalone pearls are perhaps the rarest of pearls, with studies showing that a decent sized pearl (over 15mm in diameter) only occur in about one in every five hundred thousand abalone (although some studies suggest that this figure is more like one in nine hundred thousand). They cannot be cultured in the same way as other pearls are, as the abalone are haemophiliacs, meaning that if the traditional culturing method was used the abalone would simply bleed to death. However, recently farmers have found a method of creating small mabe pearls.


Mabe pearls are those which are grown on the inside of the shell, caused by a dome-shaped disc of resin which is glued in place and left for three years whilst the animal covers the disc with iridescent nacre This method avoids any penetrative surgery on the abalone, but does only produce small, dome shaped pearls. In these molluscs the culturing of pearls is impossible using present techniques. A completely wild, whole abalone pearl usually takes 8-10 years to grow, and most abalone are harvested for food long before they are this old. Many species of abalone don't have the ability to produce pearls, and even if they can, it depends on water temperature, stress levels and diet.


Abalone farming has been around for a very long time for their meat, with any pearls that were found being a bonus. Nowadays, nothing is wasted. The meat is still popular around the world, and the abalone shell is used for decorative inlay, buttons and carvings. The shell of an abalone can be the beautiful mix of iridescent colours that the pearls can be, but is also much more common and thus affordable than the pearls themselves.


The pearls can be solid or hollow, they can range in shapes, sizes and colours. Typically, abalone pearls are irregular, baroque shapes, but they have been known to be round, oval or even horn-shaped. The price of a high quality, large abalone pearl can reach tens of thousands of dollars.





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