The quahog pearl isn’t technically a pearl, defined in an oxymoron as non-nacreous (a non-mother-of-pearl pearl), it comes from a clam. Gemologists say pearls must come from an oyster or a mussel, however, quahogs are also capable of producing them, though rarely. The quahog is known as the purple pearl because it typically occurs in unusual shades of color from purple to lilac.
Quahogs are native to the Atlantic shores of North America from Canada to Georgia, especially on the coast of the New England states, and can also be found along California’s Pacific coast.
The quahog clam thrives off the shores of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Known on the market as littlenecks or cherrystones, these clams are a staple to any seafood loving New Englander’s diet.
The quahog’s history of value goes back a long time. When English pilgrims landed in Plymouth, MA they discovered that the local Native American tribe had a medium of exchange called “wampam” which consisted of beads made of these most famous Baystate bivalves, the quahog.
“There’s a handful of quahog pearls out there,” said Gina Latendresse, president of the American Pearl Company in Nashville, Tenn. “That makes them very interesting and very rare.”
A notable purple pearl (pictured below) was recently submitted to New York’s GIA laboratory. It measured 13.69 × 11.80 mm and weighed 16.64 ct and was traced back to a quahog.
Like other natural pearls, quahog pearls are rarely spherical. Button shapes with flat bases are most often encountered. Natural northern quahog pearls are often submitted to GIA labs. Most are below 10 carats with a flat-based button shape, usually with a dark or light purple color, and tales of their accidental discovery while eating clams are not uncommon.
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