All About Spiny Oyster Shell

Spiny Oyster Shell
spiny oyster jewelry by sunlight silver

What is Spiny Oyster Shell?

Spiny Oysters, also known as Spondylus, are marine animals found in warm waters. They are a group of bivalve mollusks known for their vibrant colors. Despite their name, spiny oyster shells do not actually have spines. The term "spiny" in their name refers to the rough, protruding ridges or bumps that are present on the shell's surface. These ridges give the shell a spiky appearance but are not true spines. Though the outer shells are beautiful and unique, it is the inside of the shell that is most often used in jewelry

Benefits of Spiny Oyster Shell

Not only are Spiny Oyster shells beautiful to look at, but some people believe they offer strength and protection, emotional healing, and balance. They are also thought to stimulate creativity, imagination, and self-expression, and provide a connection to the sea offering calming, cleansing, and purifying properties often associated with the sea.  

History of Spiny Oyster Shell

Spiny oyster shell holds a significant place in history, particularly in the cultures of indigenous peoples of the Americas, including Native American tribes such as the Navajo, Zuni, and Pueblo. Archeologists have found pieces of spiny oyster in burial sites dating back as far as 6000 BCE.

In ancient South American cultures, spiny oyster shells were more valuable than gold and silver. Only Shamans or elders were allowed to wear or use them. Because of its vibrant colors, Spiny Oyster shell pieces were a popular choice for adornment and ceremonial objects.

In addition to its use in jewelry, spiny oyster shell was also utilized in pottery, inlay work, and other forms of traditional craftsmanship. Its enduring popularity and cultural importance have ensured its continued use in contemporary Native American art and jewelry making.

Spiny Oyster Shell Colors

Spiny oyster shells are stunning and vibrant! These colorful shells are especially valued for their aesthetic appeal. Their range of colors includes orange, red, pink, purple and brown

Many factors contribute to the variety of colors in the spiny oyster shells: genetics, diet, environmental conditions, pigments and minerals, age and growth. Different species and populations may be predisposed to specific colors or patterns. As spiny oysters grow, their shell color and/or pattern may change. Pigments from their diet can be deposited in the shell resulting in different colors. Environmental factors, such as nutrient availability, water temperature and depth can also impact the shell color.

spiny oyster shell and sterling silver jewelry by Julie Pope

Spiny Oyster Shell Hardness & Strength

Spiny oyster shells' hardness can vary depending on the specific species and individual shell. Spiny oyster shells fall within the lower end of the Mohs Scale of hardness, ranging from about 3.5 to 4.5, indicating a moderate level of hardness. While spiny oyster shells are not as hard as minerals like quartz or topaz, they are still durable enough to be carved, shaped, and used for various purposes.

Orange spiny oyster shell carved turtle earrings by sunlight silver jewelry

Where is Spiny Oyster Found?

The Sea of Cortez off the coast of Mexico is known for its abundance of spiny oyster shells, though they can be found along the coasts of many other areas of the world including Central and South America, The Caribbean Sea, The Gulf of Mexico, The Indian Ocean and parts of the South Pacific.

While spiny oyster shells are found in various locations, obtaining high-quality shells can be challenging. Collecting the shells often requires diving or specialized equipment. The limited availability of high quality shells adds to their value.

How is Spiny Oyster Harvested?

Spiny oysters are harvested by hand. Divers using scuba gear or snorkels search coral reefs or rocky substrates for the spiny oysters. Once a diver locates a spiny oyster, they carefully remove it from its attachment point using their hands or specialized tools. It requires precision and caution to avoid damaging the oyster or the surrounding marine environment. After the oysters are detached, they are placed in mesh bags or containers. This allows water to flow through and ensures that the oysters remain submerged to help preserve their condition.

Harvesting of spiny oysters is often regulated to prevent over-exploitation and protect the populations. Rules and regulations may include limitations on the number of oysters that can be harvested, size restrictions, and designated harvesting areas. Care is taken to preserve the populations of these beautiful organisms.

About Kingman Mohave
Kingman Mohave and Spiny Oyster Shell Jewelry

What is Kingman Mohave?

Kingman Mohave is a unique and beautiful gemstone composite that is created when stabilized nuggets of turquoise, mined from the Kingman region of Arizona, are combined with Spiny Oyster Shell using a high-quality jeweler's epoxy or resin. They can use up all the tiny pieces that would otherwise be scrapped or thrown away, reducing waste. The layers of Turquoise and Spiny Oyster Shell may be stacked, arranged in patterns, or combined in various ways to achieve the desired aesthetic effect. It is often used to create earrings, pendants, bracelets, and rings.

Orange, red and purple spiny oyster shell pendant by sunlight silver
Spiny Oyster Shell Care and Cleaning

What is the Best Way to Care for my Spiny Oyster Shell Jewelry?

Caring for spiny oyster shell jewelry is important to maintain its beauty and longevity. By following these care tips, you can help preserve the beauty and integrity of your spiny oyster shell jewelry for years to come.

Avoid exposing it to harsh chemicals. Chemicals such as perfumes, lotions, and hairsprays can damage the shell or affect its color. We recommend you apply these products before putting on your spiny oyster shell jewelry to minimize contact.

Protect it from impact and scratches. Spiny oyster shells are relatively durable but can still be scratched or damaged if they come into contact with hard surfaces. Avoid wearing your jewelry during activities that may expose it to excessive impact, such as sports or heavy manual work.

Spiny Oyster and sterling silver jewelry by sunlight silver

What is the Best Way to Clean my Spiny Oyster Jewelry?

Clean it gentlyTo clean spiny oyster shell jewelry, use a soft, lint-free cloth to wipe away any dirt or oils. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that may harm the shell's surface. If necessary, you can lightly dampen the cloth with water or use a mild soap specifically recommended for delicate jewelry cleaning. Remember to dry the jewelry thoroughly after cleaning.

What is the Best Way to Store my Spiny Oyster Jewelry?

Store it properly. When you're not wearing your spiny oyster shell jewelry, store it in a separate compartment or jewelry box to prevent it from coming into contact with other pieces that may scratch or damage it. You can also wrap it in a soft cloth or jewelry pouch to provide additional protection.

Limit exposure to sunlight and extreme temperatures: Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight or extreme temperatures can cause discoloration or deterioration of the shell. Avoid leaving your spiny oyster shell jewelry in hot cars, near windows, or in areas with excessive heat or humidity.

1 comment

  • Suzanne

    Hi. I just bought a vintage Native American pendant. It has a round blue Kingman Turqouise stone on top and underneath is a large triangular orange spiny oyster stone. Set in sterling. With bail, the whole piece measures slightly less than 3 inches long. The back has a stamped hallmark of initials Sn and then stamped Sterlung. The initials are in script. It has 2 flowers in between the 2 stones. I cannot find the artist with those initials. I don’t know the age of it either but it is vintage. It’s a heavy piece. Can you help me with determining price and origin of hallmark please!!???

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