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types of shell jewelry

Shell jewelry is not all cheesy tourist souvenirs. For some, it’s an art. And the result is, dare we say, stylish and fashionable. It all depends on the pieces you buy and how you wear them. Before you load up on puka shells and walk your personal catwalk, learn about these other four types of shells and the shell jewelry they made famous.

Cowrie Shell Jewelry

shell jewelry - cowrie shell necklace

Get it on Tophatter for around $10

Cowrie shells are those small conch-like shells that you’ve likely seen strung on necklaces and bracelets or made into earrings, sold near any beach vacation hotspot. They have a shiny finish. These shells have been used a dozen different ways in jewelry making, but when strung on a simple gold chain, it’s a classy bohemian look that you can’t steer your summer wardrobe wrong. If you want to go a little gaudier and own it, a cowrie choker will surprise you when paired with a cute summer dress and mixed metals.

Paua Shell Jewelry

shell jewelry - drop earrings

Get it on Tophatter for around $16

Paua shell jewelry is made from abalone shells, which comes from a sea mollusk, and it’s also called the mother of pearl. No one is exactly alike which is part of what makes it a unique material for various types of jewelry. But all mother-of-pearl shells do have one thing in common: a funky mix of deep blues and greens and purples that blend together. You’ll find bold, chunky creations like these drop earrings, but you’ll also find it used with metal jewelry to give it a pop of color. For example, these wave paua shell earrings. If you paua shell jewelry that’s bigger and bolder, pair it with a simple monotone outfit to let it stand out.

Shell Lei Jewelry

Get it on Amazon right here!

This is a style of jewelry that’s made from shells found on the Hawaiin islands, and the shells (though are several types) are generally referred to as Ni’ihau according to the Ni’ihau Heritage Foundation. They’re all very small shells found in a variety of colors. You’ve likely seen this style of jewelry on tourist stops looking like this set of necklaces, but something like these drop earrings may be more stylish even beyond your tropical vacation.

Heishi Shell

shell jewelry - heishi shell necklace

Get it on Amazon for around $11

Of all the shell jewelry, this may be the most gender-neutral style. They look like small discs beaded together to form a round, tube-like necklace, bracelet, or other pieces of jewelry. They’re very similar to puka shells, except you’ll find many colors beyond the typical white or beige shells. This set of chokers features rainbow heishi shells, a nod to the 90s. It’s the perfect opportunity to break out your vintage 501s if you’ve got ‘em. Or if you’re looking for a men’s fashion, try this shell necklace with a shark tooth.

Shop the products:

  1. Shell necklace
  2. Paua drop earrings
  3. Wave paua shell earrings
  4. Set of shell necklaces
  5. Lei drop earrings
  6. Set of chokers
  7. Shell necklace with a shark tooth

Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.


Catherine Conelly is a former beauty and health editor turned freelance writer and digital marketer. She’s written for Shape, Thrillist, PopSugar and StyleCaster. Her work has also appeared on Forbes, Entrepreneur, the Glassdoor blog, and Adidas Game Plan A.

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