There is a saying in English that says that ‘one cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach’. Maybe not all the beautiful shells, but quite a lot. People for more than 135.000 years collect shells and turn them into jewelry. A great story. And you can read more of it in this blog post.

Bracelet made by Alan Preston, with shell, mother of pearl, cocos, silver, and gold

Bracelet made by Alan Preston, with shell, mother of pearl, cocos, silver, and gold

What product can claim it is trendy for at least 100.000 years?

Well, shell jewelry is. In the region near the beaches, shells are an important way to decorate one’s body. The shells you can find are used to make shell necklaces, bracelets or earrings. Not only to make yourself more beautiful but also to let another know who you are and what you think.

More fanatic people dive for shells and those beauties are of course more expensive, rarer than the shells you find on the beach. The people with influence (and more ways to get them p,e. exchanging products) wear those rare shells as a symbol of their status and power.

And when you like shells and want them very very badly, there is always a way to get them by trade, exchanging products or travel and get them yourself. That makes the shell jewelry expensive. Also because shells are hard to work on. Making wholes to bead the shells on a string have a high risk of breaking the shells altogether.

All these difficulties you have to overcome to obtain a beautiful shell jewel were in 100.000+ years never a reason to refrain from wearing and trying to get that beautiful shell jewelry.

This necklace is made of a Trochus shell (before 1905 on the Admiralty Islands). These shells are rare and difficult to work with. You have to put a small part of the shell in the fire, to make the shell brittle. The shell is polished with a stone and coral. At the end, the shell is basted with black pigment.

This necklace is made of mother of pearl shell. This necklace is used by the Aboriginals in Australia. They use this shell to ask the gods for rain and spiritual powers. The shell is also a decoration, used as a pendant or belt, and combined with human hair. The Aboriginals engrave the shell with traditional motives and use ochre, or coal to bast the inscriptions. It a valuable piece and a great trade item.

Shell jewelry is very old, a great story

Fashionistas say that ‘you are what you wear’. And what you wear is a matter of decoration for self-expression. But when did humans start doing that?

Scientists had their dogma’s and stated that this decoration started about 25.000 years ago. But the finds of two shell beads in Israel and one in Algeria turned everything they assumed upside down.

In 2004 archeologists find some 75.000-year-old snail beads in South Africa. And the question comes up: ‘when did humans started to decorate themselves for self-expression and are the shells the first material they used for this?’

In the whole world, scientists start to search in musea and collections to find more shell beads. And try to find out from what date their finds are. They really want to know when the Ancient Times bling bling started.

This turquoise pearl necklace is made with mother of pearl and Thais silver beads, finished with a magnetic clasp

This turquoise pearl necklace is made with mother of pearl and Thais silver beads, finished with a magnetic clasp

Old, older, oldest.

Eureka! They found 3 shells with the same puncture holes like the shell beads that were found in South Africa. In the Natural History Museum in London, two snail shell beads were found. They originated from an excavation of a burial site in Israel (1930s). The third bead turned up in the Musee de l’Homme in Paris. That shell bead was found about 190 km ( more than 100 miles) from the coast in the middle of a desert in Algeria.

The shell beads from Israel are between 100.000 and 135.000 years old and the bead from Algeria is between 35.000 and 90.000 years old. People are traveling and when there is no food in one place they go to another. People from Africa and the Middle East find a new habitat in Europe and Asia and they bring their belongings, like shell jewelry and shell beads with them. They are found on burial places in Europa and seem more than 40.000 years old.

This brown pearl necklace is made with mother of pearl and blister pearls.

This brown pearl necklace is made with mother of pearl and blister pearls.

Shell jewelry is ‘hot’ in the whole world.

When you are near a beach resort, you will find shops selling shell jewelry. In Europe, the shells are different (and have mostly a white color) than in Oceania or other places. At the moment those cheap shell necklaces last only for the season, but it’s still hard to resist buying them. When the shell jewelry is made of ‘ordinary’ shells, it’s not a problem. But in the Netherlands, you are not allowed to import rare shells (for ecological reasons).

In the Pacific, they find a lot of abalone shells and people normally don’t use the whole shell to make shell beads, but the use parts of the rather large shell. Those parts are polished and jewelry designers make beads and jewelry out of them. But you can also take a wooden bead and glue abalone pieces on them.

This green lapel pin is made of abalone shell and Biwa pearls

This green lapel pin is made of abalone shell and Biwa pearls

Buying your bride with a kina shell

Traveling around in Papua New Guinea quite a few years ago I saw people wearing a rather large shell as a necklace. The shell is called a kina.

That kina shell is so important for the culture (and the self-expression) of the people in Papua New Guinea that they call their money ‘the kina’. Actually, for a long time, the kina was their money. With a large and beautiful kina shell, you could by your bride! And even today, the kina shell is used for ceremonial payments.

Shell jewelry made from an egg!

Shell jewelry can be made of shells found in the sea or along the beach. Or from snails, but also from ostrich eggs. Especially in Africa, this type of jewelry is popular (already for ages and ages).

In Southern Africa, the ostrich shell is the oldest form of material to make jewelry. It’s durable, rather easy to work with and it doesn’t break so easily as sea shells do. The shell is really white, which makes wearing this material popular. And the shape of the egg symbolizes female fertility.

Necklace made of a kina shell. From Papua New Guinea

Necklace made of a kina shell. From Papua New Guinea

Today shells are not considered as gemstones by jewelry designers. But to me, shells are real gems and I love to use them. Especially mother of pearl, abalone shells are my favorites. And lucky enough I bought one kina shell from my travel to Papua New Guinea. Still, plan to make a fabulous necklace wit hit. Ideas? Let me know on my mail info@florencejewelshop.com

When you want to know more and want to know everything about jewelry and gemstones, ask for my ‘tips and secrets’. I will send you every 2 weeks new tips about jewelry and gemstones. Just let me know where to send them too.

 

Hug, Florence from FlorenceJewelshop.

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