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The Concho River Pearl: A Beautiful Texas Enigma That Adorns Many a Sweetheart’s Ring Finger

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Treasured by Texas jewelers, the Concho River pearl is produced by mussels found around San Angelo in the river of the same name, and unlike the round, white ones normally valued for pearl jewelry, they come in irregular shapes, sizes, and colors, from an array of light pink through deep purple. Legend has it that Spanish Captains Hernan Martin and Diego del Castillo were sent to explore what was then called the “Río de las Nueces” (Nut River) in 1650 (believed to refer to the Concho River), coming across these gems with the help of Native Americans in the area.

For close to 35 years, it’s believed that the Jumano nation made active efforts using the discovery of the pearls to try and entice the Spaniards to establish settlements and missions in the area to assist in protecting them from the Apache, to little avail. For who would guess that in West Texas, of all places, such a special gem could be found? San Angelo pearl dealers value them highly, and there are presently a small number of such stores in the area that craft and sell jewelry from the Concho River pearls, accented with gold, silver, and sometimes diamonds, depending on the unique settings required.

The Concho River Pearl: A Beautiful Texas Enigma That Adorns Many a Sweetheart’s Ring Finger

Photo: Facebook/Teresa Adams

The city of San Angelo also honors the precious stone with a sculpture that was set in front of the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, in the very middle of the Concho River, called Pearl of the Conchos. It depicts a life-sized mermaid who holds a shell with a Concho pearl in her hand. And the pearls are in quite high demand from both tourists and locals, be they as souvenirs or as legitimate gems in jewelry settings. Due to persistent drought conditions and reduced water levels, however, the pearls are getting harder to come by.

Found only in the Tampico pearly mussel of the Concho River, with only approximately four in every 100 of them producing pearls, due to a peak in interest through the 1980s, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began licensing for commercial mussel collection, resulting in a present licensed list of only eight commercial musselers in Texas. Due to the fact that freshwater mussels have been declining, the state stopped issuing commercial collection licenses in 2006, with no future plans to issue any further.

The Concho River Pearl: A Beautiful Texas Enigma That Adorns Many a Sweetheart’s Ring Finger

Photo: Facebook/Jolene Haney to Texas Naturalist & Natural History

The city traces its current small pearl industry roots to a fellow by the name of Bart Mann, who was a custom jeweler in the 1950s who found thousands of the pearls and kept them around as oddities prior to designing jewelry with them and developing an international following. After that, pearl “hunters” from across Texas pounced on San Angelo in search of the gems, and a niche industry was born. Today, however, almost every jeweler in San Angelo dealing with Concho River pearl jewelry has family or personal ties to Bart Mann’s original operation.

Because of the uniqueness of each pearl, jewelers that specialize in them will custom-design around the pearl itself as opposed to trying to fit the gems into rings, pendants, and the like. Many attribute the size and shape of the pearls to the mineral content in the river or the traits of the mussel they come from. Whatever the logic, if there is such a thing, the Concho River pearl is a gem of Texas that many have a special place in their heart for, as well as their next beautiful and imaginative jewelry setting!

Sources:

Legend Jewelers

Wikipedia

Texas Beyond History