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Types of Shells Used in Jewelry: A Comprehensive Guide

Types of Shells Used in Jewelry: A Comprehensive Guide

Shells have been used in jewelry making for centuries and continue to be a popular choice for designers today. Shells come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colours, making them a versatile and unique material for jewelry. From cowrie shells to abalone, many different types of shells can be used to create beautiful and eye-catching pieces. When it comes to jewelry, shells can be used in many ways. They can be strung together to create a simple necklace or bracelet or combined with other materials like beads or metal to create more complex pieces. Shells can also be used to create earrings, rings, and other accessories, making them a popular choice for those who want to add a touch of beachy, bohemian style to their look.

 

Overall, shells are a beautiful and unique material that can add a touch of natural beauty to any piece of jewelry. Whether you prefer simple, understated pieces or bold, statement-making designs, there is a shell out there that's part of your perfect accessory.

History of Shell Jewelry

dentalium shell necklace from the Museo Archeologico G. Rambotti

Photo: Museo Archeologico G. Rambotti

People have been using shells for thousands of years to create beautiful and intricate jewelry pieces. The oldest known piece of jewelry made from shells was discovered in Israel and is believed to be between 100,000 and 135,000 years old.

Shell jewelry has been a popular adornment in many cultures throughout history. In ancient Egypt, shells were used to create necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Shells were also used to make ceremonial objects and were believed to have protective powers.

In Europe and Asia, shell jewelry has a long history and has been used for decorative and religious purposes. In Israel, for example, shell jewelry has been found in archaeological sites dating back to the Bronze Age.

In Native American cultures, dentalium shells were used to create intricate beadwork and were highly valued for their beauty and rarity. The use of shells in jewelry making was also prevalent in Hawaiian culture, where puka shells were used to create classic white choker-length necklaces.

As trade routes expanded, shell jewelry's popularity spread worldwide. Seashells from the Pacific and Indian Oceans were traded to Europe, where they were used to create intricate jewelry pieces. Today, shell jewelry remains popular and is often used in beach-inspired designs.

Overall, the history of shell jewelry is rich and fascinating, spanning thousands of years and countless cultures. From ancient Egypt to modern-day beachwear, shells have played an important role in jewelry making and continue to be a beloved material for designers and wearers alike.

Types of Shells

When it comes to jewelry, shells are a popular choice due to their unique and beautiful characteristics. Different types of shells can be used to create a variety of stunning pieces. Here are some of the most commonly used shells in jewelry:

Mother of Pearl

Mother of Pearl necklace

Mother of pearl is the iridescent layer found inside the shells of some mollusks, such as oysters and abalone. It has a pearly lustre and is often used in jewelry due to its beauty and durability. Mother of pearl can be carved into different shapes and sizes, making it a versatile material for jewelry making.

Mother of Pearl has been revered and valued by many cultures throughout history for its beauty, rarity, and spiritual significance.

Due to its iridescent white colour, Mother of Pearl is often connected to purity, innocence, and new beginnings. In Christianity, it is associated with the Virgin Mary, as it is believed to symbolize her purity and innocence.

In ancient China, it was considered a symbol of wealth and prosperity and was often used to decorate the homes of wealthy individuals.

In Hinduism, the goddess Lakshmi, associated with wealth and prosperity, is said to have emerged from a sea of milk, often depicted as being filled with Mother of Pearl shells.

In Native American cultures, Mother of Pearl is often used in spiritual ceremonies and is believed to have protective properties.

It is also believed to stimulate creativity and imagination, making it a favourite of artists and creatives.

Abalone

Abalone beaded necklace

Abalone shells are known for their beautiful iridescent colours and are often used in jewelry. They have a unique pattern of blues, greens, and purples that make them stand out.

Like Mother of Pearl, which is sometimes made from abalone shell, abalone is associated with emotional balance, tranquillity, and protection. It also is believed to enhance intuition, imagination, and creativity, making it useful for artists and writers. Additionally, it is believed to have healing properties that can help to alleviate stress and anxiety.

In some African cultures, Abalone shells are used in divination practices and are believed to have the power to connect individuals with their ancestors.

Paua

blue Paua shell (New Zealand Abalone)

Paua shells are a type of abalone found in New Zealand. They are known for their vibrant colours and are often used in jewelry making. Paua shells have a unique pattern of blues, greens, and purples, making them a popular choice for creating statement pieces.

The Maori people, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have used Paua shells for centuries in their art, jewelry, and traditional ceremonies. Paua shell is considered a taonga, or treasure, by the Maori people. It is highly valued for its beauty and is often used to create intricate designs in traditional Maori carving and weaving.

The Maori also believed Paua to have spiritual significance. It is said to symbolize the eyes of the god of the sea, Tangaroa, and is believed to have the power to protect and guide individuals on their journey through life.

Paua shell is an important resource for the economy of New Zealand. It is harvested sustainably and used in producing jewelry, souvenirs, and other products that are sold domestically and internationally.

Cowrie Shells

Cowrie Shells

Cowrie shells are sea snail shells that have been used in jewelry making for centuries. They have smooth, glossy surfaces and are often used to create necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.

Cowrie shells are associated with prosperity, fertility, and protection in metaphysical practices. They are also believed to enhance intuition and psychic abilities.

In some African cultures, cowrie shells are used in divination and are believed to have the power to connect individuals with their ancestors. They are also used in traditional medicine to treat various ailments.

In Hinduism, cowrie shells are associated with the goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, prosperity, and abundance. In some Hindu cultures, cowrie shells are used in traditional ceremonies and are believed to bring good luck and fortune.

In some Native American cultures, cowrie shells are used in traditional dances and ceremonies and are believed to have protective properties.

Helmet Shell

Cassis Cornuta horned helmet shell

Helmet shells, also known as Cassis Cornuta, are mollusk shells with a straight fibrous structure and concave back. They are often used to create cameos due to their unique characteristics.

In some African cultures, the Helmet shell is used in traditional ceremonies and is believed to have the power to connect individuals with their ancestors. It is also thought to have protective properties and is used to ward off negative energy.

In some Native American cultures, the Helmet shell is used in traditional dances and ceremonies and is believed to have spiritual significance. It is also used to make jewelry and other decorative items.

Conch Shell

queen conch on the beach

Conch shells are known for their pink-to-orange colouring and flame-like structure. They are often used to create cameos and other types of jewelry. The queen conch is a popular type of conch shell used in jewelry making.

The conch has been valued for its spiritual and cultural significance for thousands of years. The conch shell is associated with communication, creativity, and spiritual awakening. It is also believed to have a calming and soothing effect on the mind and body.

In Hinduism, the conch shell is associated with the god Vishnu and is often used in traditional ceremonies. It is believed to have the power to purify and protect individuals from negative energy.

In Buddhist culture, the conch shell is one of the eight auspicious symbols and is often used as a musical instrument in traditional ceremonies. It is believed to symbolize the sound of the Buddha's teachings and is used to call practitioners to meditation and prayer.

Bittersweet Clam

California Bittersweet Clam (Glycymeris septentrionalis). Species of mollusc.

Photo: Ben Keen

Bittersweet clam shells are a type of mollusk shell that has a unique pattern of brown and white stripes. They are often used to create necklaces and bracelets.

Sand Dollar

Sand dollars are a sea urchin shell with a unique pattern of five-pointed stars. They are often used to create earrings and pendants. The sand dollar is associated with grounding, protection, and abundance. It is also believed to help individuals connect with the energy of the earth and the sea.

Sand dollar

In Christian symbolism, the sand dollar is often associated with the story of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The five-pointed star on the sand dollar is said to represent the star of Bethlehem, while the holes in the shell are believed to represent the wounds of Christ. The sand dollar is also associated with spiritual renewal and regeneration.

Jingle Shells

Jingle shells or mermaid's toenails

Jingle shells, also known as Mermaid's toenails, are mollusk shells with a unique pattern of brown and white stripes. They are often used to create bracelets and necklaces.

Regarding metaphysical properties, some sources suggest that jingle shells are associated with the energies of the ocean and the moon. They are believed to help individuals connect with their intuition and creativity and promote emotional healing and balance.

Operculum

Operculum or cat's eye shell

Operculum shells, also called cat's eye shells, are mollusk shells with a unique eye-like marking on the front and a spiral growth on the back. They are often used to create earrings and pendants.

Operculum shells are associated with protection, grounding, and emotional balance. They are also believed to help individuals connect with their inner wisdom and intuition.

In Hinduism, operculum shells are associated with the goddess Kali, the goddess of destruction and transformation. The shells are believed to symbolize the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

Wampum

wampum rondelles on string

Wampum shells are a type of mollusk shell that Native Americans have used for centuries. They are often used to create necklaces and bracelets with a unique pattern of purple and white stripes.

Wampum shells are associated with communication, spiritual growth, and connection to the ancestors. They are also believed to help individuals connect with their inner wisdom and intuition.

Wampum shells were often used as currency in trade, but they were also used in traditional ceremonies and as a symbol of social and spiritual importance.

For example, in the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) culture, wampum belts were used to record important events, treaties, and agreements. The belts were believed to have spiritual significance and were often used in traditional ceremonies.

In some Algonquian cultures, wampum belts were used as a form of communication and storytelling. The belts were often intricately woven with different colours of shells to represent different stories or teachings.

Heishe

Native American Heishe bead and Turquoise necklace

Heishe shells are a type of shell bead that has been used in Native American jewelry for centuries. They are often made from clam or olive shells and have a unique cylindrical shape.

Heishi shell beads have been used in various Native American cultures throughout history. Heishe shell jewelry was often worn during traditional ceremonies and as a symbol of social and spiritual importance.

For example, in the Pueblo culture, heishi necklaces were worn during traditional dances and ceremonies. The necklaces were believed to have spiritual significance and were often made with intricate designs and patterns.

In some Navajo cultures, heishi necklaces were used as a form of protection. The necklaces were often made with turquoise, which was believed to have protective properties.

Puka shells

puka shell

Puka shells are a type of seashell that are native to the Hawaiian islands. They are small, white, and have a naturally occurring hole in the center, which makes them easy to string together to make jewelry. The word "puka" means "hole" in Hawaiian, and the shells have been used for centuries to make traditional Hawaiian leis and other types of jewelry.

Puka shells are often associated with the beach and the ocean, and they have become popular as a fashion accessory around the world. Puka shells are associated with purification, protection, and spiritual growth. They are also believed to help individuals connect with the energy of the ocean and the earth.

In Hawaiian culture, puka shells were often used to make leis, which were worn during traditional ceremonies and as a symbol of respect and hospitality. The shells were also believed to have protective properties and were often worn as a talisman.

Conclusion

In conclusion, shell jewelry is a popular form of jewelry used for centuries. From South Africa's beaches to New Zealand's shores, shells have been used to create unique and beautiful jewelry pieces. In some cultures, they have also been used as currency, souvenirs, and even as a symbol of status.

While shell jewelry is generally safe to wear, it is important to note that some people may be allergic to certain types of shells. It is always best to consult a doctor if you have any concerns about wearing shell jewelry.

Shell jewelry is a unique and beautiful way to express one's love of the sea and the natural world. Whether you are looking for a simple shell necklace or a more elaborate piece of shell jewelry, there is something for everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you identify the authenticity of seashells used in jewelry?

To identify the authenticity of seashells used in jewelry, one needs to consider the shell's texture, color, and shape. Real seashells have a natural, uneven surface and are not perfectly smooth. They also come in various colours that may fade or change over time. The shape of the shell can also indicate its authenticity. For example, a cowrie shell should have a characteristic oval shape and a glossy finish. If the shell has a uniform texture, colour, or shape, it may be a fake.

What is the significance of cowrie shells in jewelry making?

Cowrie shells have been used in jewelry making for centuries and hold cultural significance in many parts of the world. In some African cultures, cowrie shells are believed to represent prosperity, fertility, and good luck. They are often used in necklaces, bracelets, and anklets, and can be strung together to create intricate designs. Cowrie shells are also popular in bohemian and beach-inspired jewelry designs.

What is Shiva Eye?

Shiva Eye

Shiva Eye, also known as Pacific Cat's Eye, is a type of seashell often used in jewelry making. It is named after the Hindu god Shiva, who is often depicted with a third eye. The shell is characterized by a spiral pattern that resembles an eye and is said to symbolize wisdom, intuition, and spiritual insight. Shiva Eye is often used in pendants, earrings, and bracelets and can be set in silver or gold for an elegant look.

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