Abalone shell jewelry shimmers in iridescent blues, greens, and purples, popular since humanity’s earliest days. Shell jewelry is some of the oldest known ornamentation used by early humans, with examples found throughout the world at archeological sites. Utilizing a variety of shells, including abalone shell, the first humans began a tradition of craftsmanship that has been perfected over the centuries.
While most gems are composed of crystallized minerals found deep within the Earth, abalone shell is from a smaller group of organic gemstones, which include material like amber or pearl. Abalone shell is harvested from a group of mollusks known as haliotis. These sea snails have been known to humans for centuries, if not millennia, with our early ancestors harvesting them as a food source and form of ornamentation.
Abalone Shell Quality Factors
Though the shell can be found in a variety of iridescent colors, the primary range consists of moody blues, mysterious greens, and royal purples. Beyond this, shells have been found in nearly every color of the rainbow. Despite this range of possibility, blues, greens, and purples remain the most common, popular, and coveted. It remains popular, as this form of mother-of-pearl possesses a strong iridescence, otherwise known as orient.
As an organic gem, it can be susceptible to scratches and abrasion. Abalone shell ranks 3.5 on the Mohs scale, placing it below the representative mineral for rank four, fluorite. Despite this vulnerability, abalone shell is amazingly durable! Abalone shell is a form of calcium carbonate, otherwise known as mother-of-pearl. As a standalone mineral, it’s not that tough. However, abalone shell forms in a unique, brick-like structure that reinforce the sum of its parts, lending it superior durability when compared to this humble component. These layers of nacre can be compared to the formation of plywood, where interlocking layers create a composition of superior strength.
Abalone Shell in Jewelry
Depending on the species, abalone shells can vary in length from just a few inches to about six or seven in length. Fortunately, craftspeople can cut and carve the shell into any size required by selectively arranging fragments of shell. This often creates fascinating patterns in jewelry, such as checkerboard patterns where alternating colors of the shell are arranged in dazzling displays.
For anyone who loves the orient of pearl, or iridescent gems such as labradorite and mystic topaz, abalone shell is a great addition to their collection. Lovers of the sea and ocean can wear abalone shell jewelry as a romantic reminder of their love of the water. Since collected shells aren’t treated, they’re the perfect choice for anyone who wants to feel a personal connection to the Earth.
How did Abalone Get its Name?
• In general trade, haliotis are typically referred to as abalone, their most common name. However, depending on where you find yourself in the world, it can be flavored by local tradition.
• The word abalone comes from the American Spanish word abulón, which itself is a borrowed word. The Rumsen are a Native American group around Monterey Bay, California. Abalone are known as aulon in their language. The earliest use of abalone can be traced to the mid-19th century, in California.
• In New Zealand, abalone are frequently identified as pāua, a Maori word for the mollusk.
• The British might sometimes refer to these creatures as ormer, from the French ormier. The word’s roots go back further, with many scholars suggesting it has Latin origins. When translated from its Latin roots, the word means ‘sea ear.’
• Sea ear is a very common nickname given to many varieties of abalone, especially those from Australia. With a flat shell, and the pattern of the whorls, or spirals, makes many abalone species resemble human ears.
Location: Multiple Locations
For coastal dwelling peoples, abalone harvesting was something beyond its decorative appeal. Abalone, a form of sea snail, is harvested as a food source to this day! In fact, the popularity of this creature has led to it being farm-raised across the globe. This supplies a steady stream of abalone for fans of this delicious delicacy and its shimmering shell. Abalone are found off the coasts of every continent, except Antarctica.
Shop LC sources our ethically grown and harvested supply of abalone shell from Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and Taiwan. The mollusk favors the colder waters surrounding these areas. These countries all participate in aquaculture programs to raise abalone as a food source. Shells are traded for use in jewelry and decorative objects.
Farming Abalone Across the World
Abalone harvesting occurs in approximately three to five-year cycles, depending on the species being raised. The best of current stock is selected for spawning, and their microscopic eggs will be collected to introduce the next generation. The water containing their eggs is collected and placed in special hatching tanks. Here, under carefully controlled conditions, the abalone larvae are nurtured carefully for the next year or so. They are fed a diet of algae or seaweed, to begin with, but as the mollusks approach maturity, the abalone will start to feast on kelp.
Once the young abalone are past this very vulnerable stage, they are transferred to their final home. For the next few years, they will continue to grow as they consume kelp. Once the abalones have reached full-size, the mollusks are purged for a few days before harvest.
Alternately, some fisheries will seed reefs with young abalone for later harvest. For instance, Japan has been very successful with this method, as many farms are individually owned, and the process is subsidized. After seeding, the abalone are left to fend for themselves until they reach maturity and are suitable for harvest.
Diving for Abalone
In parts of South Australia, it is still very common for divers to collect abalone by hand. Despite technological progress, it is still a very labor-intensive process. For many years, divers had to work alone, as only the license holder could legally fish for the animal. In modern times, small teams of deckhands and divers work together, with divers collecting large bags of abalone that are floated to the surface. Divers will surface many times throughout the day, depending on weather conditions and the availability of stock in the fishing area. The local government strictly enforces yields, ensuring that the industry remains viable for years to come. Also, they must have equipment well-maintained and periodically inspected to ensure safety regulations are enforced. Divers must also possess a minimum certification before they can dive for abalone. Divers face risks of oxygen contamination, rough weather conditions, and becoming tangled in kelp – abalone’s favorite food. Some operations will employ relief divers for safety, and the divers wear drysuits. Unlike a wetsuit, a drysuit keeps the diver dry so that they may remain in the water longer. This is important, as many divers will rise and surface for many hours each day, going to depths of up to 100 feet to collect abalones.
Ultimately, the farming method varies from country to country based on climate, coast, and tradition.
Despite conservation efforts, illegal harvesting and overfishing of abalone still threaten many areas of the world. Combined with disease, several species of abalone have been placed on endangered species list in many countries. No matter where you purchase your abalone shell jewelry, make sure the seller is supplying ethically sourced material.
• Ranks 3.5 on the Mohs scale.
• Abalone shell primarily features hues of blues, greens, and purples.
• Sourced from Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and Taiwan.
• Abalone shell is not treated.
A mesmerizing art of nature, the abalone shell comes from the mollusks, also known as the sea snail or even the sea ear. It’s hard, rock-like outer shell opens to reveal color ranges from moody blues, mysterious greens and royal purples in the form of mother of pearl. Shop LC sources our ethically grown and harvested supply of abalone shell from the coast lines of Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and Taiwan. Abalone is both farm raised and seeded on reefs across the globe. Depending on the species, abalone shells can vary in length from just a few inches to about 6 or 7 inches in length. It’s never enhanced in any way, ensuring all the colors are always natural. Lovers of the sea and ocean can wear abalone shell as a romantic reminder of their love of the water.