Abalone (pronounced: a · buh · low · nee) is a large marine gastropod mollusk that has been harvested for decades both for its meat and iridescent shell that is made into jewelry. The unique coloring of the mother-of-pearl type secretions that form the shell are unlike any other in the world.
Most abalone are found in the cold waters of the coast off of North America, as well as South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand where it is called by its Maori name: “paua shell”. At last report, harvesting of abalone in the waters off the northern United States was closed due to depleted population of abalone due to several environmental factors. However, harvesting in other areas appears to be ongoing.
Below is a New Zealand abalone half shell.
New Zealand Abalone Shell
Abalone shells are sometimes used by simply drilling holes and stringing beads and pendants. Others are carved into intricate shapes as abalone shell is quite durable and lends itself to all levels of jewelry design. The unique colors of abalone shell create a beautiful rainbow effect with the result that no two abalone shells are ever alike, and all bring their own iridescent beauty to the wearer. With the shell being available at very reasonable prices, abalone has become a favorite among jewelers in tourist destinations and pearl designers who want to add the unique and unusual to their design production.
Source: New Zealand, Australia, Japan and United States. Shells from small sea creatures of the abalone family. Most popular is “rainbow abalone” as seen above.
Chemical: Calcium Carbonate
Formation: Shells of the abalone
Crystal System: None. Organic
Unusual Properties: Can produce abalone pearls but these are rare.
Wearability: Excellent for jewelry items.
Optic Character: None
Absorption Spectra: None
Specific Gravity: Varies
Transparency: Opaque to translucent
Special Identifying Properties and Tests: Abalone shell jewelry is rather unique for the intensity of colors that offer more variety of colors than ordinary mother-of-pearl.
Imitations: None known.
View additional ISG Education Series articles below:
- The Story of Ammolite
- The Story of Aquamarine
- The Story of Quartz
- The Story of Abalone Shell
- Where Gemology Meets Horology
- The Story of Amber
- Brazil: Where Gemstones Form
Visit the ISG website to learn more about our world-class programs in gemology and jewelry appraisal at our low tuition rates. International School of Gemology.
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Ocean Maui is a trademark of Ocean Maui, image used for educational purposes and they have a very cool website. Visit them here: Ocean Maui.