Culturing Conch Pearls Successful
(Photo: Sun Sentinel / June 9, 2009)
The queen conch could prove to be a real jewel for Florida Atlantic University.
The plan: to use the marine animal to produce cultured pearls, and potentially make a lot of money with both sales and a patent on its newly developed technique.
The university's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute inPort St. Luciehas already produced 200 pearls during a test run in 2009 and received a $65,000 state grant in 2010 to accelerate the project.
The pearls have a porcelain finish and luster like the interior of the conch shell, and come in a wide variety of colors including white, red, pink, orange, yellow and brown. They are measured in carats like traditional gemstones.
"They're very striking in nature and very much a conversation piece," said Amanda Gizzi, a spokeswoman for Jewelers of America, a trade association.
Conch pearls are already on the market in their natural form. But they are extremely rare and expensive. Experts estimate only one in 10,000 conchs produces a pearl, and fewer than 10 percent of those are large enough and of high enough quality to be used for a gem.
The prices for natural pearls range from $200 to $2,000 a karat; the culturing process could cut the price in half, officials said.
Right now, FAU scientists are getting their tanks and conchs prepared. They plan to start seeding a large batch of conchs this summer for their first big harvest in the summer 2013. Jewelry could be on the market by late 2013, said scientist Megan Davis, co-inventor of FAU's patent pending technique.
"We will make sure the consumer understands the process is sustainable. We don't kill the animals in any of the process," Davis said.More about culturing conch pearls successful.