Former Northeastern Law Student Sends Rare Quahog Pearl to Auction

By Seth Daniel

Two years ago, Frank was just one of many first-year law students at Northeastern University – walking down Huntington Avenue daily and getting acquainted once again with his hometown, having grown up in Cambridge but left for college in Colorado.

His life was all about contract law and other beginning courses, yet he could have never known that soon his life would take an unexpected and unusual side-trip into the world of gemology and bivalves.

One evening, as he explains it, he bought a $25 bag of Quahogs at a market in Brookline to expose his West Coast girlfriend to down home, Boston-style stuffed Quahogs. He planned to follow his mother’s recipe and do things in the most traditional way.

In the course of preparing dinner, Frank’s life was altered quite substantially – as in that bag of Quahogs was one of the most unique and interesting pearls found in years. This week, the 16.64 carat pearl will go on auction at Bonham’s in Los Angeles and could fetch upwards of $35,000.

“My mom’s recipe called for removing the clam and mussel from the shell,” he said. “I had to go through them detaching the meat from the shells. It must have been the sixth or seventh one in the lot and I felt something in the clam meat. It was sitting right there in the meat. I’m 29 now, and I was 27 when I found it and I’m a total neophyte to the world of fine jewelry and gems. That said, my girlfriend was standing next to me and you’d really have to be dense to not understand what was in that clam was pretty special.”

Frank, whose name has been changed by the Sun at his request to preserve anonymity, said the past two years since that fateful night preparing dinner have been quite a unique ride.

“Certainly it’s been the most random and interesting experience I’ve had happen to me,” said Frank in a phone interview this week. “More so, it has really been the experience to meet people in the gem and jewelry world, people I would have never met in a lifetime. It certainly has been a great adventure for me and a path in my life I could have never predicted or expected. I got to rub shoulders with some very prestigious jewelers in the New York area that the average jewelry buyer doesn’t know. These are sellers far above Cartier and Tiffany’s. They are people selling to Beyonce and royalty in Europe…Most of them got a real kick out of it, probably because I’m just an ordinary guy.”

The Quahog pearl is a rare and very large purple, non-nacreous pearl. It was to be offered at the Lapidary Works of Art, Gemstones and Minerals auction to be held at Bonhams’ Los Angeles yesterday, Dec. 7. It is the largest Quahog pearl ever offered at public auction, and is estimated at $25,000-35,000.

The Quahog pearl does not come from an oyster but from a thick-shelled North American “chowder” clam. Very few of these pearls have ever come up for public auction, but Bonhams Natural History department, which specializes in the sale of exotic natural pearls, has sold the majority of them.

Claudia Florian, Co-Consulting Director of Bonhams Natural History Department in Los Angeles, said, “Quahog pearls can be found from Cape Cod all the way down to the Mid-Atlantic – but those found in the Boston area are usually the finest. This particular pearl is an exceptional example with a classic New England backstory.”

It is estimated that only one in 100,000 Quahog clams actually produce a pearl of any kind, and most are too unattractive for use in jewelry. The rarest Quahogs are those that are a true purple, and can only be found in New England.

That was why it was such a surprise for Frank; few, even hearty New Englanders, would expect to find a pearl in a bag of Quahogs.

He said he nearly ruined the pearl, but decided at the last minute not to pre-cook the Quahogs. Instead, to be more traditional, he was showing his girlfriend how to shuck clams the traditional way while raw and then stuff them before cooking. It’s a harder way of doing things, but an older, truer recipe.

Frank said had he not taken the traditional route, the pearl would have been destroyed – another stroke of dumb luck.

“I have to say there was a thought in my mind to pre-cook them before I took them out of the shell,” he said. “I ended up not doing that. Had I done that, it would have completely ruined the luster and nacre of the pearl. It was dumb luck. I bought a bag of clams and I decided not to pre-cook them before and just broke into the shells. I wish I could sensationalize it, but that’s really just what happened.”

Frank said upon the find, he immediately thought perhaps he was looking at a life changing situation.

He briefly considered whether it would allow him to buy a house, or a new car or some other item that had been out of his reach beforehand. However, after a little bit of Internet research, he learned it was very rare, but maybe not a six-figure situation.

That said, he was very careful to find the right gemologist, Benjamin Zucker, in New York City. Zucker was taken by Frank’s story and helped him certify the pearl and appraise it. However, on the private market, it just didn’t tickle anyone’s fancy.

“It didn’t turn out to be a big commodity; it’s sort of a specimen,” Frank said.

Earlier this week, before the auction, Frank said he was excited for the sale and hoped it generated interest and he could move on with life.

“I haven’t thought about what I would do with the money,” he said. “I’d like to think I can help some people in my family and buy the girlfriend a nice gift, maybe go on vacation. Then it’s back to reality.”

Frank said he has since quit law school and started his own business back in Colorado. He said law school wasn’t for him, and that the only positive part of his time studying law was finding the pearl.

“It’s actually funny, that was probably the only silver lining to my entire law school experience,” he laughed.

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