Hawaiian Sunrise Shells: Rare Treasures

By Coco Zickos

Sunrise Shell Earrings

Sunrise shell earrings are popular jewelry among local Hawaii women. Photo courtesy of Micah Camara via flickr.

Hawaiian Sunrise Shells are a beautiful sight to behold. Each one has unique splashes of pink, red, orange, yellow and purple shades, akin to what you would see during an actual Hawaiian sunrise. In fact, it is speculated that their common name may have arisen because of this asset or perhaps because they were once abundantly found on the shorelines in locations like Ke‘e Beach on Kauai at sunrise. Because of their increased consumer demand, however, now they are typically found only at depths from around 10 to 30 feet where collectors must dive for them.

What makes these beauties even more unique is that they are endemic to Hawai‘i and only found in waters surrounding the islands. Legends surrounding these shells claim that, in the past, they were only worn by ali‘i (Hawaiian royalty), though there has been no actual evidence proving this.

Sunrise Shell, Moonrise Shell

The top necklace features the moonrise shell while the bottom features a beautiful sunrise shell. Photo courtesy of Coco Zickos and Halelea Gallery on Kauai.

The scallops, known as Langford’s Pectens, sell for a pretty penny these days due to their mass appeal which has increased their value, some selling at about $200 a pop. They become even more valuable when they have hints of green and blue. These shells of the same species are called Moonrise due to their even less common, darker appearance. This tremendous range of color variation is based on different factors like at what ocean depths the creatures lived and what foods they may be been exposed to.

sunrise shell

A variety of beautiful sunrise pendant necklaces found on Kauai and Halelea Gallery on Kauai.

The shells are most often sold as jewelry items – as pendants on necklaces, as well as decorative earrings, rings or bracelets. They can be found at locations around the islands and vary in prices depending on their condition and colors. It is imperative for consumers to purchase only from legitimate retail outlets since most of the artists will ensure their shells were uninhabited when plucked; this helps prevent the collapse of this one-of-a-kind species.

So if you happen to be strolling along any of Hawai‘i’s North Shore beaches during sunrise, particularly on Kauai or Oahu, and you see a sparkle of red or orange in the sand, you might just have stumbled across one of these treasures; consider it your lucky day.

Sunrise Shell

A little boy finds a sunrise shell early in the morning at Lumahai beach, Kauai. Photo courtesy of Jessica Merz via flickr.

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