Puka Shell Necklaces Not Just for Surfers Anymore

Scott Smith Sep 23, 2023
13 People Read


Remember those groovy Puka Shell necklaces that Greg Brady used to wear while surfing in Hawaii on The Brady Bunch TV show from the 70's? They are still very popular, especially in the summer at the beach. Lots of people dig the look and the unique shape and form of the Puka Shell beads and the way they imperfectly stack together as they are strung onto a corded necklace.  Actually, any white shell necklace can make a user's tan pop out. Many people wear the more abundant, more economical Clam Shell Bead necklaces. Their beads are shaped into evenly round or square beads. They look good, but they lack the texture of the real Puka Shell beads. 


What the heck are they really?


Most people these days have heard of the Puka Shell necklace, but, likely, 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.   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, leaving 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.   Also, check this video from Etsy with a really nice selection of loose pukas. 


 Introduction


The puka shell necklace is a timeless piece of jewelry that has gained popularity for its natural and laid-back vibe. Originating from the Hawaiian islands, this necklace has become a symbol of beach culture and has made its way into mainstream fashion. Its simplicity and versatility make it a must-have accessory for both men and women. In this article, we will delve into the history and significance of the puka shell necklace, as well as explore different ways to style and wear this iconic piece of jewelry.




 History and Significance  


The puka shell necklace has a rich history that can be traced back to the indigenous people of Hawaii. In Hawaiian, "puka" means hole, which refers to the naturally occurring hole found in the center of the shells used to make these necklaces. The shells are typically harvested from the beaches of Hawaii, where they wash ashore after being carried by the ocean waves. The indigenous people would collect these shells and string them together to create necklaces, which were then worn as a form of adornment and a symbol of status.  Over time, the puka shell necklace gained popularity among tourists and surfers visiting the Hawaiian islands. It became a souvenir item that represented the laid-back and carefree lifestyle associated with beach culture. The necklace became a fashion statement worn by both men and women as a way to show their affiliation with the beach and surf culture.  


 Styling and Wearing  


The beauty of the puka shell necklace lies in its simplicity and versatility. It can be effortlessly styled with various outfits, adding a touch of casual elegance to any look. Pair the necklace with a simple white t-shirt or a flowy bohemian dress for a relaxed and beachy vibe. The contrast between the natural shells and the clean lines of the outfit creates a visually appealing ensemble.  Layer the necklace with other delicate chains or necklaces to elevate it for a more formal occasion. This creates a stylish and trendy look that is perfect for a night out or a special event. The mix of textures and lengths adds depth and visual interest to the overall outfit.  For men, the puka shell necklace can be worn as a statement piece or layered with other necklaces for a more eclectic look. It pairs well with a plain t-shirt or a button-down shirt, instantly adding a touch of personality and style to the outfit. Whether worn alone or combined with other pieces, the puka shell necklace is a versatile accessory that can be incorporated into any wardrobe.  


 Care and Maintenance


To ensure the longevity of your puka shell necklace, proper care and maintenance are essential. Avoid exposing the necklace to harsh chemicals, such as perfumes or lotions, as they can damage the shells and cause discoloration. When not wearing the necklace, store it in a cool and dry place to prevent any moisture or humidity from affecting the shells.


Cleaning the necklace is simple and can be done using mild soap and water. Gently scrub the shells with a soft brush or cloth to remove any dirt or debris. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with a clean towel. Avoid using abrasive materials or excessive force, as this can damage the shells or the string holding them together.




 Conclusion


The puka shell necklace is a timeless piece of jewelry that embodies the spirit of beach culture and the laid-back lifestyle. With its natural shells and simple design, it adds a touch of elegance and style to any outfit. Whether worn by men or women, the puka shell necklace is a versatile accessory that can be easily styled and incorporated into any wardrobe. By understanding its history and significance, as well as practicing proper care and maintenance, you can enjoy this iconic piece of jewelry for years to come. 


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.   


Cultural 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. 


Imitations 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-off versions. 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.