Abalone Shell Jewelry Meaning and History

Abalone shell jewelry is absolutely beautiful. It contains a dazzling array of colors that shift and change as the viewing angle changes. It truly is something unique and something that every jewelry collection should contain. 

However, this isn’t just another pretty piece of jewelry. It is a piece filled with meaning and history. This has given it significance in the past and continues to give it significance today. 

So, what is this significance? Read on to find out!

What Is Abalone Shell Jewelry?

Abalone shell jewelry, as the name implies, is jewelry made from the shell of an abalone. 

What Is an Abalone?

Abalones are a variety of mollusks. These are small, snail-like creatures that live underwater. They are notable for their hard shell, which clamps around the creature. The name actually refers to a large group of different species that fall under this category. 

However, they all share one distinct feature. They have shells made from a material known as nacre but better known as mother-of-pearl. This material coats the interior of the shells and helps them stay strong and hardy. The material is beautiful and contains layer upon layer of different colors that shimmer and shine in the light. It is this same material that goes into making a pearl

Related: Different Crystals And Their Meanings In Jewelry

How Does Abalone Shell Form?

An abalone forms the interior of its shell over the course of its life. As it grows, it adds to the shell and allows the shell to grow with it. This leads to the layered look of an abalone shell. 

The exact mechanism through which this happens is not exactly known. Scientists have a hard time peering into the shell of one of these creatures and examining the process. However, it is speculated that the array of different colors comes from the different variety of foods the animal eats throughout its life. 

Traditional Meaning of Abalone Shell Jewelry

Abalone shell jewelry has held a deep sense of meaning across many cultures. Typically, it is connected with the sea and holds a special place in the hearts of those who rely on the ocean for their livelihood. 

Maori Culture

Maori culture has a deep and historical connection to the sea and everything within it. Abalone is particularly plentiful in the waters surrounding the Maori homeland, New Zealand. As food, the animal serves as an important part of their diet. This may be why abalone shell has taken such a prominent place in Maori tradition. 

It is traditionally regarded as a symbol of strength. It is used in traditional artworks depicting warriors and even in some warrior garb. 

However, it is also a symbol of harmony. The Maori people believe it helps with communication and helps people get together. 

Many royal collections now contain gifts from Maori people that are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. This shows how valuable this treasured material is considered to be. 

Looking for a pair of abalone earrings that will work anywhere from high society to the trip across the world you’ve been dreaming of? Take a look at our Seaside Earrings made with hand-wrapped abalone and dipped in 24k gold.

Navajo and Apache Culture

Some Native American cultures have abalone shells at the centerpieces of their respective mythologies. Both Navajo and Apache cultures have these shells as part of the legend surrounding the White Painted Woman. This woman is a critical figure in these cultures and is responsible for providing the world with life. 

The White Painted Woman is also an important part of a cultural tradition of these peoples. The Sunrise Ceremony is the most important coming-of-age ceremony for women from these cultures and centers around this figure. The ceremony even uses an abalone shell as a part of the traditional costume or as a vessel for the ceremony. 


An abalone shell lined with mother of pearl on a mossy background


Additional Spiritual Meanings

While abalone shell has a lot of meaning in traditional cultures, it also takes on significance outside of these. People who use gemstones for healing or believe in the spiritual nature of all things often hold up the power of abalone shells. 

Symbol of Protection

Abalone shells are strong and hardy. They are built up over the lifespan of the host and are designed to protect this animal from any harm. Maybe this is why the jewelry made from these shells is considered to be a powerful source of protection. 

However, this source of protection doesn’t just have to include protection against outside forces. It can also include protection through healing. The shell may be viewed as a source of healing that allows the wearer to stand strong. In this way, it is like the abalone’s shell, which heals itself if it is damaged. 

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Symbol of Water

Like many types of pearls, abalone shells are a symbol of water. Water and abalone shell go hand in hand. The shell literally comes from the water and the life within it. So, the shell has come to represent many aspects of that water and that life. 

This often leads to the view that the shell is cleansing and purifying. After all, ancient cultures held this to be true. Many people nowadays use the shell as part of a cleansing ritual, even using it as a cup to hold cleansing water. 

Water doesn’t just cleanse and purify, though; it also calms. The abalone’s shell is sometimes viewed as a source of calm and relaxation. It brings to mind thousands of waves crashing overhead as the shell sat calmly beneath the water. Maybe a piece of abalone shell jewelry can be your source of calm in a turbulent ocean? 

Want a fun and adventurous necklace featuring abalone, agate, and amazonite? Check out our Bohemian Vibes Necklace you’ll love to wear every day.

Symbol of Fertility and Motherhood

Shells have an ancient connection with fertility and motherhood. The Greek myth surrounding Venus has her arriving in the world on a shell. Meanwhile, abalone has a direct connection to womanhood in Native American cultures. 

So, many people use abalone shells as a symbol of these ideals. They keep the shells nearby when trying to conceive as a form of good luck jewelry. They also use jewelry made from the shells as gifts celebrating mothers. 

More broadly, abalone shell sometimes refers to womanhood in general. In this way, it is a powerful symbol of feminine might. 


A woman with multiple rings, including one made of shells


Finding Meaning With Abalone Shell Jewelry

Abalone shell jewelry is packed with ancient and modern meaning. It is a symbol of water, protection, and womanhood and is an important piece of many cultures’ heritage. Wearing jewelry like this can be an amazing way to connect with any of these ideals. 

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