An unlikely place yields a one-of-a-kind gemstone admired around the world.

Hunting the Concho Pearl

The striking landscapes of West Texas not only yield some of the most remarkable sunsets in the world, but the rivers that run through it are home to another rare, naturally occurring treasure — the Concho Pearl. How rare, pray tell? Figure this: 95 percent of all the pearls in the world today are cultured and only 5 percent are created naturally.

It’s estimated that Concho Pearls were first discovered in the late 16th Century by Spanish explorers. Today, pearl hunters flock to rivers around San Angelo, Texas to try their hand at retrieving the freshwater mussels containing this sought-after iridescent pearl. Found only in the Crytoniaias tampicoensis variety, Concho Pearls are unique in size, shape and color, range from perfectly round to “baroque” (i.e., irregular in form), and from a soft pink hue to dark lavender. 

Interestingly, these pretty pastels are the result of and dependent on the chemical makeup (caleche and other mineral content) of the riverbeds where they are found. The silver-lining of Texas’ current long-lasting drought is such that pearl mongers now have access to an array of mussels previously too deep to retrieve

Those hunting ought to be ready to commit to the effort: River visibility is so bad, they will essentially be diving blind. Yet the effort pays off for professional pearl divers like Susan Martin, who has said, “It’s the adventure. In most of the places any divers dive, you cant see. . .It’s kind of like finding a golden Easter egg.”

River in San Angelo, Texas

Divers like Martin then pass off the pearls to specialty retailers like San Angelo’s Legend Jewelers, whose tagline fittingly reads: “We make magic!” Legend Jewelers is home to a 13-millimeter Concho Pearl appraised at $50,000, which visitors can see upon request. 

A gemstone that’s come to symbolize purity and loyalty, it’s long since been rumored that some of the first-found Concho Pearls adorn Spain’s Royal Crown — making this unique Texas treasure, quite literally, fit for a king.

- N4SJ

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