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Shell & Pearl

Abalone ~~ Blister Pearls ~~ Nacre ~~ Osmena Pearls ~~ Paua ~~ Shell Cameos


Abalone is a beautiful shell from the Family Haliotidae and Genus Haliotis. Haliotis ("sea ear") is called Abalone when it is found off the North American coast. There are 8 species of haliotis (plus hybrids) found off the west coast of North America, primarily from middle California, US to Baja California, Mexico. There is also one species found on the east coast.

Abalone Pieces
Haliotis is called Paua when found off the coast of New Zealand, Awabi off the coast of Japan, Mutton Fish off the coast of Australia, and Omer off the coast of Guernsey.

Abalone, paua, etc have a row of holes down the side of the shell. These are respiratory pores. These holes are sometimes present in the pieces I use and are a totally natural part of the shell. Unless otherwise stated in the description, the abalone shell I use is totally natural (no dyes) and either polished or tumbled to bring out the shine.

Most of the abalone I use is blue abalone from the coast of Baja California, Mexico. Unlike paua, which has very vibrant blue & green colors, abalone has strong silver overtones. The other colors are there and will flash out as the abalone moves. The camera has a hard time picking up the silver overtone. It also really MAGNIFIES the small natural pits in the shell surface. Most of the pits you don’t notice until you see them in the picture.

Blister Pearls

Cultured pearls grow around a nucleus that is manually inserted into an oyster or mussel. Modern techniques place the nucleus within the soft body of the oyster, away from the shell, allowing it to grow freely. Older techniques place the nucleus between the mantle and the shell of the oyster, where the pearl develops as a "blister" attached to the inner shell.

Blister pearls are left attached to the shell backing and the shell is polished to a smooth surface. Blister pearls are often cut into lovely freeform shapes, showing both the inner shell and the pearl. They can also be cut so that just the round pearl is left. These are in essence "half-pearls" and are often used in earrings, rings, and pins where a flat back is desirable.

Some people call blister pearls "mabe (ma-bay) pearls". This is only accurate if the blister pearl was grown in a Mabe oyster.

Blister Pearls
The Mabe oyster is a penquin wing oyster that produces blister pearls with better luster, iridescence, and color than other species. Mabe Blister Pearls have a rainbow spectrum of colors on their brilliant nacre, hence they are also called Rainbow Pearls.

Mabe pearl is also used to refer to the process of creating a half-pearl - even when the pearl was not grown in a Mabe oyster. These half-pearls are manufactured by a specific method - the cultured blister pearl is cut off the shell, the manually planted nucleus is extracted, the inside of the nacre coating is painted, the void left by the nucleus is filled with an epoxy, and the pearl is finished by covering the bottom with a polished piece of mother-of-pearl.


Nacre is the pearly lining found on the inside of shells. It is created naturally by mollusks and is a combination of argonite and a scleroprotien called conchiolin. It is often called "mother of pearl", although usually this is when the nacre is a pearly white color.

Nacre, mother of pearl, ammolite, pearls, and TUMS are all made from the same mineral: calcium carbonate. The specific form of calcium carbonate in shell is called aragonite, a naturally occurring mineral with a vitreous luster that is also found in limestone caves and near hot springs and geysers. From what I have read, it is the crystal structure that makes aragonite separate and distinct from other forms of calcium carbonate and calcite. It is argonite that creates the pearly luster and iridescence of abalone, paua, and blister pearls.

Osmena Pearls

Osmena pearl is not a pearl at all, but the inner layer of shell from a chambered nautilus. This inner shell is usually white, with a rainbow iridescence. The cabochons cut from the nautilus shell are normally slightly ridged.

Osmena Pearl

Paua Shell (NZ Abalone)

Paua Shells

Paua is a species of abalone found off the coast of New Zealand. It is the most vividly colored shell you can find - it outshines even the other species of abalone and makes wonderful jewelry. It has a range of blues and greens, often going into electric shades. Purples and pinks are fairly common. Yellows and other colors will also show. Many cultures believe paua is a symbol of good luck and prosperity.

These shell creatures are in the Family Haliotidae and Genus Haliotis. There are actually 3 species collectively called Paua. Haliotis Iris (Paua) is the most common & best known. The other two are Haliotis Australis (Silver Paua) and Haliotis Virginea (Virgin Paua).

The most intensely colored Paua come from the cold waters off the southern coast of New Zealand. When found, the shells have a whitish lime coating and perhaps a few barnacles on the outside. This is polished off to reveal the intensely colored "exterior" shell - some are "perfect" and some have rough, scaly, or non-colored patches. The interior of the shell also has the same lovely colors, but the transitions between the colors are softer and cloudier.

I play with each paua piece and decide which side to show to the front as I make each pendant. Some of the pieces have natural holes in them. These are the respiratory pores - the row of holes seen down the side of the shell. Unless otherwise stated in the description, the paua I use is natural (no dyes, no coatings) and tumbled, to give them smooth edges.

Marketing "misnomers" for paua include sea opal and marine opal. Paua is shell however and should not be mistaken for any form of opal.

Paua seems to change color to reflect more of the colors that you are wearing. And, like ammolite, as you turn and move the light will catch on the paua and reflect bursts of color. I think it is the sudden bursts of color that attracts people’s attention when you are wearing these pendants. I am always amazed at how many people comment on mine when I wear it.

Paua jewelry is fun because it goes with everything, liking jeans just as much as dress up. You can also change up the dressiness of it by using a leather cord instead of a chain.