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Hawaiian Shell Jewelry
how to make Niihau Kahelelani shell leis

The Hawaiian Islands have a rich and valuable indigenous culture that survives today as seen in the hula, surfing, chanting, and lei making. Hawaiians created exquisite shell jewelry using Kahelelani shells. These jewels from the sea are still collected and strung in the same manner the ancients employed.

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The Kahelelani shell is the most sought after of the rare Niihau and Kauaian shells. It is the smallest and therefore the most difficult to collect and string. The Kahelelani is also the most colorful shell used in Niihau and Kauaian shell leis.   
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These Kahelelani shells are handpicked from beaches on the island of Kauai. The shells are about 5 mm in diameter and shaped like the rounded head of a pin.
Kahelelani ‘akala pua, “pink flower kahelelani.” These shells are pink with circular bands of darker pink. Some Niihauans differentiate a pink colored shell with light striations as kahelelani ‘ akala pua ahiehie (light pink flower) and the darker striated shells as kahelelani akala pua ikaika.

Kahelelani akala ikaika, “strong pink kahelelani.” Or “Hot pink” it is the rarest of the kahelelani shell. The price per strand of a lei made with these shells about three times that of leis of the other colors.
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These shells are known as Sunrise shells because they’re easiest to spot in the early morning. They are unique to Hawaii. It is one of the islands’ rarest shells and the value and prices can run into hundreds of dollars each. Most are the size of a dime or smaller, but the biggest measure 1 ¾ inches wide.
Niihau momi shell leis
Momi, which means “pearl,” are shells of oval shape and often shiney in a pearl. They are a member of the molluscan family columbellidae, known as the dove shells.

Momi vary in color from pure white to dark brown and almost black.

The darker shade of each color group seems to be found less frequently than the lighter shades and that means the darker color will typically be more expensive.
momi image
niihau momi image
Making Hawaiian Shell Jewelry:
• First you have to sort the shells by type, color and size then place them in separate containers.
• Remove the grains of sand from the shell aperture using a sharp pin.
• Making the hole in the shell requires an exact amount of skillfully applied pressure.
• The shells are now ready for stringing. We use braided, ultra-heavy fishing line made to last a life time.
• We are now ready to meticulously arrange each and every shell, following a pre-determined design by the artist. This is followed by the placement of puka or cowry shells at either end of the lei.
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Niihau momi shell leis
Hawaiian shell leis are traditionally joined by cowry shells (family Cypraeidae) or puka shells to the ends of the leis. 
Hawaii Granulated Cowrie
Item# CWB_001
Hawaii Granulated Cowrie (Cypraea granulata)
The shell of this quite uncommon cowry reaches on average 22–28 millimetres (0.87–1.1 in) in length, with a maximum size of 49 millimetres (1.9 in) and a minimum size of 15 millimetres (0.59 in).

The shape of the shell is wide oval and appears flattened. The dorsum surface is rough, with a deep longitudinal line in the middle and many protuberances of various sizes. These Cypraea granulate shells are commonly used for making clasps on our Hawaiian shell leis. Some use imitations. We do not.
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Hawaii Granulated Cowrie
Item# CWW_001
Hawaii Granulated Cowrie (Cypraea granulata)
The shinier ones are just a bit less mature than the duller ones. When these shells are very young they are smooth, shiny, and thin. As they get more mature, the bumps form and they starting getting thicker and begin to lose their shine. Both types are very desireable and collectible.

The shape of the shell is wide oval and appears flattened. The dorsum surface is rough, with a deep longitudinal line in the middle and many protuberances of various sizes. These Cypraea granulate shells are commonly used for making clasps for our Hawaiian shell leis. We use only the finest shells, all collected from the waters of Hawaii.
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How to select a Hawaiian shell lei:
When it comes to Kahelelani shell leis, there are five main aspects that determine the overall worth of a piece.

1. Color: The shells in a perfect lei have been diligently sorted for color. If the desired style is monochromatic, then the shells should be matched as close as possible. For instance if a necklace is to be pure burgundy, then no common brownish shells should be present to detract from the overall appeal. In a mixed color style, the colors or color combinations, should compliment each other.

2. Luster: Natural shell luster is a crucial feature when shopping for a shell lei. Shells that shine with a brilliant luster similar to pearls are more attractive.

3. Flaws: Each individual shell should be near-flawless. This means it should be free of chips and cracks. Also, a well made piece will only contain shells with holes that have been pierced by the stringer. Often the Kahelelani shell has other holes created from an octopus feeding on the tiny creature that lived inside. The shells should also be free of debris and grains of sand.

4. Size: The most exquisite pieces are made with a uniform size or unique taper which helps create symmetry within the lei. Leis made from the smaller Kahelelani shell are extremely difficult to make, thus making them more valuable.

5. Craftsmanship: The quality of craftsmanship should be visibly apparent. The shells should be pierced in exactly the same place on each shell to ensure a smooth transition between shells. The thread itself should not be visible between the Kahelelani shells. Also, when placed correctly, the shells will form a tight fitting pattern that will prevent the shells from turning and upsetting the overall style of the piece.

We hope this information will be helpful to you in finding a beautiful piece of Hawaiian shell jewelry.

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