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A Gem of a Shell! Louisiana’s State Gemstone

Posted by E.G.D. on November 15, 2012

The Beautiful Gulf Coast of Louisiana

I’m sure that many of you remember the series of enthusiastic articles that Jody and I wrote after our summer trip to the Louisiana Gulf Coast.  We had a brilliant time shelling, the beaches were so clean and the locals were so friendly!  We found some real beachcombing gems.  Little did I know at the time, but some of the shells we found can actually be cut to make Louisiana’s state gemstone, the “Cabochon cut gemstone.”

Louisiana Gulf Coast Oyster Shells

In the summer of 2011, the governor of Louisiana signed the bill officially changing the state gemstone, which used to be the agate.  The document reads “the official state gemstone shall be the cabochon cut gemstone, derived from the Crassostrea virginica mollusk predominantly found in the waters of coastal Louisiana.”  Isn’t that neat?  Jewelry made from shells is, of course, far from a new concept, but according to Mike Nixon of the Tri-Parish Times, Anne Dale, the creator of this new variety of gemstone, “gained immediate notoriety as the first person ever to successfully achieve a cabochon cut, a domed top with a flat bottom, from a mollusk shell.”  Even more worthy of note, according to the same article “a sampling of the finished gem was entered into permanent display among the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History’s U.S. National Gem Collection on May 23” of 2011.  It’s official, folks!  Those Louisiana oysters (Crassostrea virginica mollusks, specifically) are one gem of a shelling find, and can be made into a serious, officially recognized gem.

Louisiana Gulf Coast Oyster Shells

Now, these gems, commercially called “LaPearlite®,” are lovely, lustrous domed gems that are likely to run a buyer “from $250 to $2,000 per completed piece of jewelry” according to Mike Nixon of the Tri-Parish Times.  If you’re in the market for gemstone jewelry, that’s considered about “mid-level range.”  I did not find any photos of these gems that were not under copyright, but if you would like to see some examples, the best I found were on Anne Dale (the inventor of the gem)’s website here.  Yup, at this point, all the good examples are on a commercial website.  Sorry about that~!  In any case, even before they are cut, the shells are beautiful, and I highly recommend you pick a couple up when next you’re on a Louisiana beach.  Trust me on this, it is unlikely that you’ll have trouble finding as many as you might like to take home with you, and unlike their cut and finished counterparts, those shells on the beach are absolutely free of charge, much like diamonds in the rough at Crater of Diamonds State Park.  Incidentally, they are huge and make great soap dishes or jewelry holders.  I even attempted to use one as a dish on which to store my sunglasses, but the shell was slightly too small for the task.  Hey, if your sunglasses are small, though, I can’t see why that wouldn’t work.

Regardless of your location or your beachcombing preferences, best of luck beachcombing, everyone!  I hope you find some real gems. -E.G.D.


8 Responses to “A Gem of a Shell! Louisiana’s State Gemstone”

  1. kiwiskan said

    Fascinating. Will have to read more on this. Love the beach

  2. Somehow “LaPearlite®” sounds terribly banal and corporate-speak for these lovely shells! Personally I prefer them as shells – but I’m only a male so what do I know about it…

  3. Wonderful…I love the beach. Orofiorentino from Italy

  4. I live in Nautilus Bay – a somewhat secluded beach far from the maddening crowd, In the middle of the year, I pick up Nautilus shells – paper thin and oh, so fragile. It reminds me how precious every day is.

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