The abalone shell and the Paua shell are both well-known among jewelry experts for the rich and iridescent colors they contain. By examining the distinctive characteristics of the two shells you can establish which most suits your jewelry tastes.
The abalone shell is part of the mollusk family, Haliotidae, and the name stems from the Spanish word abulon. The Latin name genus Haliotis is sometimes used, meaning "sea ear" because the shell is shaped like an ear. The abalone shell thrives in water with strong waves and currents because this oxygenates the water effectively. A total of 100 to 120 species of abalone exist.
Paua is a species of abalone that is found exclusively off the coasts of New Zealand. It is sometimes referred to as sea opal or marine opal as opposed to its Maori name, paua.
The abalone shell, including the paua species, is known for its rich and iridescent colors and is consequently often used in jewelry. The inside of the shell tends to be mostly silver in color but with hints of green, blue and sometimes pink. The paua is known for being the most colorful of all the abalone species and displays intense colors. The colors can be green, pink, or purple and blue, and gold or crimson toning is often present.
The abalone shell can be found off the coasts of Florida, New Zealand and California as well as around many small islands in the South Pacific. However, the paua species is constrained to New Zealand shores, making it less readily available.