Even without considering their flawless shape and shine, pearls are pretty remarkable as the only precious gemstone found in a living creature. Their appearance is so revered that “pearly white” is a beautiful descriptor – especially for teeth when you don’t want admonishments from the dentist. But at one Delaware restaurant, that colorful metaphor got turned on its head by a different kind of beautiful discovery: a purple pearl.
The lucky diner was Scott Overland who was eating at Salt Air, a local seafood joint in the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware area. He was enjoying a clam appetizer, which would seemingly rule out pearls as a factor, but in fact all mollusks are capable of making pearls. Alright, so it would be white, right? Not necessarily. Sink your teeth into this vibrant, rare phenomenon here.
It’s a button, it’s a bead, it’s a purple pearl
“I was the one mostly eating the clams and towards the end of the dish, I just chomp down on something that felt kind of hard,” recalled Overland. “I thought it was a shell or something like that, but then looked and it was this little purple thing.” Overland and his family, including his wife, inspected the find and thought perhaps it was something that fell in from one of the chefs, such as a bead, button, or crafting decoration.
“That’s when we sort of realized this was not something from the kitchen and probably something from the clam,” Overland shared. Sure enough, there was an indent in the clam for where a pearl would sit. The mollusk in question was a northern quahog scientifically called Mercenaria mercenaria, harvested in the Chesapeake Bay by Cherrystone Aqua Farms. Just how rare is this kind of find?
A diamond rough
The Overland family did some homework, performing some Google searches on their phones. Overland revealed, “We found that this actually was something kind of rare and special, and saw a wide range of values, from $600 to even $16,000.” Part of this price tag is thanks to the commonality – or lack thereof – behind this pearl. Natural pearls, especially in quahogs, is very rare. The Gemological Institute of America notes that this particular clam is known to produce non-iridescent, or “non-nacreous,” porcelain-like pearl. But it’s also still rare to find pearls in colors that aren’t white, not just purple but also brown, pink, blue, and even gold.
TODAY also notes that because clam harvesting went automated, without this attentive human element, rare finds like this can get overseen and lost forever, adding to a purple pearl’s apparent rarity; what’s found gets overlooked and possibly destroyed. But discovering this purple pearl just cost Overland $14. What happens next is still up for debate. If an appraisal reaches a high enough value, “it may be hard to justify keeping it.” On the other hand, this is a rare find – and Overland has a daughter who would like to treasure it.
Have you found pearls in any mollusks, at dinner or otherwise?