Seashells Pt. 1

The first thing people always ask about our jewelry is, "What's the material?" The answer? Seashells! And not prefabricated sheet laminates either. We use raw shells, most of which are either cultured or offcuts from other industries, and of course are all ethically sourced.

In this post I'm going to go a little in-depth on some of the most common shells we use and how we use them. A little disclaimer before we start: I am by no means an expert, nor do I have a background in marine biology. What I've learned about seashells comes from my own research and from talking to artisans, shell vendors/stockists, and sea port officials. None of the shells we use are endangered species.

Kicking off our seashell series is the most well-known and probably most used shell in the shellcraft industry: the goldlip oyster, or mother-of-pearl, scientific name Pinctada Maxima.

(Above) A polished mother-of-pearl oyster, beside are swatches of the colors you can get, yellow and white.

This oyster is used in culturing pearls and is mostly farmed in Palawan, where they culture the famous golden South Sea pearls. Once the pearls are harvested, the shells are discarded or sold to be used in other industries. Fun fact: this shell is featured at the back of the one thousand Philippine peso bill!

(Above left) Offcuts and discarded MOP shells from a shellcraft company. (Right) Golden South Sea pearl necklace, photo © Jewelmer.

There are two colors you can get from this shell, white and yellow. Cultured specimens usually tend to be more yellow than white compared to those caught in the wild.

Next up is pen shell, scientific name Pinna Vexillum. This shell is a scallop and is very common around the country and the Indo-Pacific region. In fact, there was once an old man who used to go door to door selling pen shells he caught from under the Mactan bridge!

(Above) Polished pen shell specimens, and swatches of inlaid yellow and red pen shell.

This shell is great for getting warm colors like brown, yellow, and red. Thicker specimens tend to be dark brown bordering on black. Some people like to tint this shell blue, but I find the natural yellowish hue always comes out and the blue always looks a bit sickly. In the Good Vibrations collection you'll find some pieces where we've successfully tinted it green. Green of course has yellow as a base color, so (in my not entirely unbiased opinion) it turned out quite well.

When I go sourcing I always like to ask if the meat of certain shells are edible, and they usually are. In fact, on our trip to Seoul last December I was surprised to find a food cart in Myeongdong serving roasted pen shell scallops. I had to stop myself from asking the cook for his leftover shells!

(Above right) A food cart serving pen shell scallops in Myeongdong in Seoul. Unfortunately I didn't have any because I'm not particularly fond of seafood. (Left) Carol necklaces from the Good Vibrations collection featuring black and green colored pen shell inlay.

The last shell I'm going to talk about is the beautiful paua abalone, scientific name Haliotis Iris. Unlike the last two shells, this one is not found in the Philippines. The paua, an edible sea snail, is most commonly found in New Zealand, where it is farmed for its meat, pearls, and multicolored shell.

(Above) A polished paua shell and inlay swatch. Yes it really does look like that.

Local shellcraft companies import the shell and usually only use the middle portion to make buttons, jewelry, and other souvenirs. We make use of the discarded offcuts for our jewelry, like in some of the pieces in the Amica collection.

The paua has GORGEOUS iridescent hues that can range from deep indigo to royal blue to neon green, and can flash yellow, orange, and electric pink when it catches the light. Pictures honestly don't do this shell justice (I have very strong feelings about how stunning this shell is). You could wear a simple black top and jeans, slap on one of our paua pieces and let it do the talking! You won't believe how many compliments they get and I swear I'm not just saying that. ;)

(Above) Pieces from our Amica collection. The shells on the right are another type of abalone, but they're much paler and don't have the distinctive blue/green color of paua.

And that's all for now! If you've read this far, thank you! Again, I'm no expert, so if I got anything wrong or if you have more tidbits of information, let me know in the comments. I'm always eager to learn more!

I'll be writing up a follow-up to this post with more on the other shells we use. Stay tuned!

- Susanne


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  • Alex on

    I enjoyed reading this post Sue! I learned a lot as well. Looking forward to more posts :)


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