Rare abalone pearls donated to GIA

The Gemological Institute of America, Carlsbad, Calif., recently received a gift of rare abalone pearls valued at $135,000. K.C. Bell, an avid 20-year abalone shell collector, endowed his extensive collection of pearls to the Institute.

Bell, who typically sells the prized treasures he finds to jewelry designers, said only one in 500,000 abalone shells will produce a gem-quality abalone pearl. He explained that abalone pearls in general are extremely rare because of the declining number of shells that are found each year. Bell said white to cream colored pearls are the rarest.

“My goal (in donating the pearls) was to turn the students at GIA on to this material,” said Bell. “Over the years I’ve tried to hold on to these pieces because there have been times where I’ve found a piece, then found its matching piece three years later and 800 miles away.”

Abalone is mostly found off the California coast, including Baja California. However, it can also be found off the Korean coast. Bell’s donation included flat, free-pointed and free-standing pearls. Other pieces were still connected to the shell.

“Sometimes you find pieces that are misshaped,” explained Bell. “I think those are the most beautiful. The round pearls aren’t always the most beautiful. It really is in the eye of the beholder.”