Imagine spending all day on an idyllic beach in Hawaii, lounging in the sun, diving in the surf, and making $1,000 a week doing it. Well, incredible as it may seem, that is happening on a handful of Hawaii’s beaches. From dawn until dusk puka shells pickers are involved in an incredible treasure hunt.
This treasure hunt began years ago. While on holiday in Kauai, Liz Taylor was photographed wearing a puka shell necklace, and since then there has been an explosive demand for the pearly disks. Chokers and necklaces made of puka shells have since been adopted by trend-setting groups, especially those that value well designed contemporary jewelry. Show people, sports figures (O.J. Simpson, and Terry Bradshaw have recently been filmed wearing them), airline personnel, and the young — all clamor for this unique Hawaiian product.
As could be expected the sudden burst of demand for puka shells caused the price to soar. Fine, evenly matched chokers were fetching as much as $125 a strand in fashionable New York boutiques. Prices in London and Tokyo were even higher. The treasure hunt was on!
Puka shells are the end products of marine snail cone shell. The cone shell is eroded by years of ocean pounding that grinds the cone-shell down until the shell washes up on the beach as a disk. Puka shells (“puka” is the Hawaiian word for “hole”) take their name from the tiny hole in the shell’s center.
Puka shells come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. The smaller the puka shell the more valuable and rare it is. Likewise, colored shells are more valuable than white ones. The shells come in lavender, deep purple, and brown. Probably the rarest shells are the grey ones. Liz Taylor is said to have offered $1,000 for an all-grey, evenly-matched small shell choker.
High fashion Fifth Avenue jewelry concerns have sported puke shells interlaced with gold, and even diamonds. Needless to say, these pieces have sported four-figure price tags.
Stringing puka shells is an ancient Hawaiian art that dates back to pre-Captain Cook days. Hawaiian Royalty is said to have treasured puke shells for their beauty and naturalness. In fact, Hawaiian legend claims that Queen Liliuokalani preferred her puka shell necklaces to the finest diamonds.
Modern day Hawaiian craftsmen are furthering the art of stringing puka shell necklaces. After the shells are collected, and holes are punched (sand particles often become firmly embedded in the “puka”) craftsmen string the shells on wire or nylon filament in as even a procession as possible. Some craftsmen taper the shells so that the center piece is the largest shell and the necklace gradually tapers off into smaller and smaller shells.
While chokers made of only shells are extremely popular, many artists are using turquoise, amethyst, coral and jade in designing their jewelry. Hawaii has long been a paradise dream to people everywhere. Now through puka shells the magic of Hawaii is being spread round the world.