Puka Shell Necklace

Scott Smith Jan 14, 2023
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Groovy 70s flashback!  Get ready to have your mind blown. 


Remember those puka shell necklaces that Greg Brady used to wear when he was surfing in Hawaii in the mid-70s on that famous TV show? Well, lots of people still dig the look of this necklace and the unique shape and texture of the individual Puka shell beads,all stacked and strung together on a corded necklace. In today's pop culture, they are still popular. Actually, any kind of white shell necklace can make a user's tan pop out.

What the heck are they really?

Most people these days have heard of the Puka Shell necklace, but it’s likely that you don’t know the back story behind the name.  

A puka (or occasionally Puca) is a ring-shaped bead that comes from a warm water cone-shaped tropical snail shell. They come in various colors. Some have splotches of brown and some are a more pure creamy white color. The word Puka comes from the Hawaiian word which means hole and was given to these little round shell fragments because many of them have a completely rounded hole in the middle which is conducive to using them as beads to string on necklaces and other jewelry. The shell of this sea creature breaks and fragments into small pieces. The tip section of the shell is the right width for a jewelry bead.   And as they are worn down by surf, they become smoothed out and rounded in a concave shape looking almost like a mushroom cap.  What happens is that the tip of the shell remains whole, but the very top pointed tip eventually wears away which leaves this flat bead with a hole.

The width of these unisex-finished necklaces can vary from very thin to quite chunky-looking. The length can be anywhere from 14” choker style, to 24” and maybe longer, but 16” to 20” are the commonly worn sizes. See this Video-Gathering Puka Shells in Hawaii.

Where they come from

Even though Pukas are found on beaches in warm water tropical areas around the world, they gained notoriety in Hawaii. However, now they have become a lot more scarce, and consequently quite expensive. Not just in Hawaii but also in places like The Philippines, which is also a popular place for making them these days.  



Puka necklaces are an excellent way to celebrate the culture and history of Hawaii. Some people wear puka necklaces as a symbol of their support for the Native Hawaiian community. Some people wear puka necklaces to show solidarity with the Lahainaluna people who are often discriminated against or forgotten about in the rush to develop the Kauai and Hawaii tourist attractions. Hawaiians often value puka shells for their spiritual qualities, believing them to provide protection against evil spirits or bad luck while generally bringing good fortune.


Buy them or make them

You can find them for sale in many places, and maybe you can even create your own puka shell necklace with the items you already have in your house. You can use an old t-shirt as a base, cut out the pattern with a bit of scrap fabric, and glue on the shell beads. You can also use a puka shell as a base and then use charms or beads to create your own designs.



It is very common for people to call necklaces Puka, even though they might be something else. Check this clip.


Lots of times clam and other generic shells are manufactured into beaded necklaces. Workers use pliers to break down a whole shell and manually create the beads before subjecting them to a tumbling process to replicate the smooth edges formed by natural wear-and-tear after a long period of time spent in the ocean surf. The result is a necklace that perhaps only appears as though it has been weathered by nature over many years.

A hole is drilled into the middle to string the cord. (The real Puka has a hole that is naturally formed in the ocean...although sometimes a drill is used to help widen or smooth out the holes, in case they are a slightly jagged or rough ) If the "puka" or central hole is perfectly circular and parallel-sided, then the hole was drilled by humans.  The non-Puka shell is often bleached to give it a stronger white color.


Also, China produces plastic copies of these necklaces. So “buyer beware.” Research and check carefully before you buy these low-priced knock-offs version. The plastic and other non-cone shell options may offer easier production and therefore cheaper prices, but they will never match the beauty and originality of a genuine puka shell necklace formed naturally in the ocean waves.