Our ceaseless quest to find the world’s greatest and rarest gemstones to bring to your collections has taken our gem hunters around the globe many times over. Now, after years of behind the scenes work, our gem expert David Troth takes us to the heart of the Caribbean to tell us - in his own words - the story of the Queen Conch.
“This is, by far and away, the rarest gemstone I’ve ever been involved in.” - David Troth
I’ve always wanted to put my name to a collection, and it is finally here. The Queen Conch Collection by David Harry Jewels is something that I have been working on behind the scenes for years. Of course, I’ve designed collections in partnership with Gemporia before and advised on gemstones, but David Harry Jewels is the start of something new.
The Queen Conch story began a few years ago when I decided to create a collection that nobody else could. Whilst researching one day, I saw a piece featuring this incredible gem, and unmatched artistry go to an auction, and it sold for $700,000 (around £530,000). It was a one-of-a-kind masterpiece by Tiffany and Co., and it got my mind racing. I immediately wanted to bring you the same incredible jewellery in my own collection.
To my knowledge, this limited edition line of jewellery is the first such collection that has ever been put together, and we’re bringing it exclusively to Gemporia. We travelled to the heart of the Caribbean to find what is easily the rarest stone of my career to feature in this collection; on top of that, we then had to rediscover an almost forgotten art - the lost skill of the carvers that would have been abundant in the historical German gem-cutting town of Idar-Oberstein around 150 years ago.
We found the last people on the planet who could work with this remarkable material; as such, this collection has taken a very long time to put together. It could possibly be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We hope that we will be able to do something like this again in the future - but for now, I want you all to enjoy the most incredible jewellery creations of my career.
I can’t believe I can finally say this, but I’m now able to bring every one of you the chance to own an authentic, natural Queen Conch piece of jewellery. Finding enough material even to create these jewellery pieces has been the challenge of a lifetime because many Queen Conch shells find their way into museums or the private collections of the world’s wealthiest collectors. That’s not to mention the demand for jewellery of this style from the far east.
When I first told my industry contacts that I wanted to create this high-quality Queen Conch Collection, everybody told me it was impossible. At that moment, our challenge became apparent, and it focussed myself and the team on the dedication we would need to make this a reality. The reward is that we finally get to present these scarce treasures to you for your collection.
A One-In-Two-Million Chance
When we talk about Tahitian Pearls and South Sea Pearls, they are, of course, incredible. But they only became affordable to most of us when it was discovered that they could be farmed and cultivated, rather than having to wait for one to wash up on shore or go endlessly diving until luck smiled on you.
When it comes to the Queen Conch shell, we’re dealing with something that can’t be farmed - at least not anymore, as we shall see. So this is now comparable in rarity to a natural Pearl - the kind worn by the Hollywood elite in the golden age of movies, and by Cleopatra when legend states she crushed a Pearl into her drink to prove her extreme wealth.
Now, you can find Queen Conch shells in the Caribbean, but finding one suitable for use in jewellery and of high-quality gem grade is almost impossible. We’ve worked it out to not even a one in a million chance, as discovering one of these fully-matured Queen Conch shells is more like a one in two million chance. I’m very fortunate to have held one of these incredible shells, with the fully formed deeper pink interior and the robust and mature shell that allows it to be crafted into jewellery. This truly is a miracle of paradise and a natural creation of the Caribbean.
The Pink Gold of the Caribbean
I want to explain why this is among the rarest gemstones on Earth. Most Conch shells max out relatively small because they’re either dragged from the ocean to be eaten as a delicacy or attacked by natural predators such as sharks, fish, and eagle rays. Remember, when inhabited, this is a very slow-moving mollusc. At this small size, they are extremely brittle, pieces will break off with little encouragement, and they’ve also got no colouration. This smaller shell size will still produce a Conch Pearl and is around three to four years old.
If you’re fortunate enough to discover something of a medium-sized shell, this is much more special. It will feature the beautiful pink colouration that collectors crave, but it is still very brittle. This shell size may produce an incredible Conch Pearl, but the shells themselves are not gem grade. These shells are around eight years old, and finding one is still a one in a million shot, but they will not be snapped up by the far east or by the carvers in Idar-Oberstein - they are just too brittle to produce wonderful cameos or intricate carvings with.
“In antiquity, the conch shell was regarded by the early Incan and Mayan cultures as a symbolic mouthpiece of the gods.” - David Troth
Now for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, as it were - the buried treasure that’s seldom discovered in the shallows of the Caribbean and where the Queen Conch earns its royal status. These surprisingly large shells are generally between 12 and 14 years old and are near-on impossible to come across. On first viewing, you’d immediately notice the excellent pink colour of the interior, which in this case extends to the lip of the shell. They are also noticeably thicker and much more stable.
The Queen Conch has texture, not unlike porcelain, but it’s exceptionally durable; this is what the carvers, the high jewellery stores and the wealthy collectors worldwide are interested in. This is when the potential value of a conch shell is maxed out, and this is probably the rarest organic gemstone in the world.
You can’t farm this, you can’t culture this, and it takes 14 years to get to this point. In that time, it has to avoid fishing, sharks, rays, sea turtles and divers - that’s why they say this is a one in two million find, and this is what we needed to find to create the Queen Conch Collection. Since the closure of the world’s first and only Queen Conch Pearl farm, started by Chuck Hessey back in the 1980s, the locals and the world market have both seen the price of the fully-mature Queen Conch go through the roof. That is why this wonderful creation of nature is often now called the Pink Gold of the Caribbean.
The Queen Conch Pearl Farm
We took a trip out to the Caribbean to see for ourselves the beauty of the lands and the difficulty of discovering a Queen Conch shell. We also visited the site of the world’s first and only revolutionary Queen Conch farm. Not too long ago, they attempted to culture these incredible shells to help preserve Queen Conch’s legacy and nurture shells through to their fully-matured stage. These specimens could then have been exported worldwide for use in jewellery. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas.
Once in 2015 and again in 2017, the area was hit by a series of massive hurricanes that decimated the area. The delicate sea pens, which contained hundreds, maybe even thousands of potential Queen Conch shells, were utterly compromised. As a result, natural predators such as the cowfish, the nurse shark and the eagle ray could come in and feast on the remaining population.
Since the destruction of the Conch farm and the overfishing of the Conch, prices now for a fully-matured Conch shell have skyrocketed and are through the roof for people looking to purchase that well-known flamingo pink colour. - Captain Reco
A well-received and promising project was suddenly gone, and there are no signs of any attempt to restore the farm and try again. What lies there now is a relic, an utterly deserted site with only the remains of the destroyed Queen Conch shells and sea pens. It is a shame that something as important as this, which would have helped bring this incredible shell to so many more people, has now fallen by the wayside.
We’ve recently seen prices go through the roof for something this scarce. People are saying that prices have gone up by 5,000 to 10,000 per cent since the hurricanes ripped through this area. Conch Pearls themselves have been seen to go for around $10,000 (around £7,500) per carat. One gemstone in the Caribbean is rarer than the Conch Pearl, and that is the gem-quality Queen Conch shell. A Queen Conch mollusc has to lay over two million eggs for one to survive to the required decade-plus age. For a fully-mature Queen Conch now, and with renowned and prestigious brands such as Tiffany and Co., Henry Hope, David Morris and Cartier vying for every discovery, it’s just about as valuable a gemstone as you can find.
Captain Reco: Our Friend In The Caribbean
We are indebted to our friend Captain Reco, who allowed this trip to happen and who brought us out to this tiny Caribbean island, surrounded by coral reefs, teeming wildlife and waist-deep water for miles and miles. It was here that we finally found our Pink Gold - a Queen Conch shell that you may now be able to own a piece of for yourself.
We rely on the expertise of locals like Captain Reco to show us the places where we might be able to find one of these exquisite rarities. During our visit, Captain Reco spoke to us about his own experiences and perspectives on the Queen Conch shell:
“Conch shells of this mature size are very hard to find because they take a long time to reach this adult stage. A conch this size is what most people look for on their adventures when diving for these shells. So these are very special because many people are looking to find them to make jewellery out of them. People love this colour because it’s very natural, and the Pearl is very beautiful.
"Growing up on the island, my grandparents would (for as far as I can date back) go out in the boats looking for Conches this size, to then go back and either eat or to sell to the jewellery stores so that they can make jewellery out of them because they’re very rare and pretty.
“My dad would show me all the places to go, some shallow areas of water and some a little deeper."
"The Conches can sometimes camouflage themselves under the sand, so sometimes, when you dive, you would only see the top horn - so you have to know what you’re looking for. Some of them are a lot smaller, quite different. The lip of the shell can be skinner and more brittle on the younger shells, so it’s not the sort of shell that people are looking to find.
“Since the destruction of the Conch farm and the overfishing of the Conch, prices now for a fully-matured Conch shell have skyrocketed and are through the roof for people looking to purchase that well-known flamingo pink colour.
“For generations on the island now, my family have been known for diving for the Conch shells. Most of them have been after the Conch Pearls, but every fisherman has their stories of being on the water, with very few of them having had an opportunity to find a mature Queen Conch. That’s what makes it so valuable right now."
“My grandparents and father were mostly interested in the Conch Pearls when diving for the Conch shells. But in the last couple of years, everyone has been more interested in the Conch shell itself. The shell has become very rare, very beautiful, and most people from abroad, from different countries like China, are trying to get their hands on the shell because it’s very hard to find and very valuable."
To have found one is a miracle, and we rely so heavily on our friends and experts in the region to show us where to come across something as special as this. Queen Conch shells lie on the sea bed, often almost completely covered in sand and sediment, so well disguised that you can barely spot them even if you’re significantly experienced at it. Captain Reco and his small team have over 200 years of expertise in tracking down the Queen Conch, using bespoke skills passed down through the generations who came before them.
WATCH GEMPORIA LIVE