A gift from the seas

Conch season opened 31 October 2010 and will run through 1 March. Five per person or 10 per boat is the limit, though poachers have little respect for this law. The poachers’ goal is to load up on the tasty gastropod in hopes to make a few dollars for cigarettes or rum. This illegal scheme is cause for concern and compared to days gone by the conch population has become sparse in Cayman waters. Conch is valued by restaurants for their edible white meat which can be eaten raw or used as an ingredient in fritters, chowders, and burgers.

What most conch pilfers don’t realize, just one conch could greatly improve their financial status. One conch in 10,000 that is! Such are the odds of finding a conch pearl which is actually a calcareous concretion, similar to a kidney stone in humans. Less than one in 10 conch pearls found will be considered gem quality.
Conch pearls are generally about 3mm in diameter with a baroque or oval shape. They can range in colour from pale white to golden yellow or coffee brown. Pink conch pearls are the most sought after. Conch pearls are measured in carats like diamonds and other precious gems.

Local entrepreneur Nick Nowak and his partner Jon Hoffman of HN International have been purchasing pearls from individuals throughout the Caribbean and Cayman to create unique pieces of handmade jewellery using platinum and 22K gold and diamonds along with the best selected conch pearls. Kirk Freeport is the exclusive dealer of their jewellery in the Caribbean.

In the last four decades I have heard several marl-road stories of pearl finds in the Cayman Islands. There is one well known account of the lucky guy who had only cleaned two conch in his lifetime, and on his second conch he found a perfect eight -karat pearl. Between the Bahamas, Cayman and Honduras I am sure that I’ve cleaned 9,999 pearl-less conch in the last 40 years… so if you’ll excuse me I need to end this article,

I’m off in my boat – my time has come.

a-gift