At Mercenaria Pearl, Cultured Quahog Pearls are the Next Big Thing

Brendan Breen, who is developing a method for producing quahog pearls, is also stockpiling a cache of wild quahog pearls for sale at auction.
Brendan Breen, founder of Mercenaria Pearl. Courtesy of Mercenaria Pearl/photography by Ayla Fox and George Morgan.

Brendan Breen dug hundreds of thousands of quahogs as a part-time commercial fisherman during high school while growing up in Duxbury, Massachusetts, hoping to eventually find a pearl inside one of them. He never did, but the desire never left him, even though he knew it was unlikely. Fewer than one quahog in a million contains a naturally formed pearl, and only a small fraction of them are of gem quality.

As a student at the University of Rhode Island, Breen learned how pearls can be cultured in oysters and other mollusks, and it made him want to try to culture pearls in quahogs, a feat never before accomplished. He successfully cultured the world’s first quahog pearl in 2016, and patented that method of inducing quahogs to make pearls. “When I saw those first pearls, I was elated,” says Breen. “No one had ever done something like this before, and it was such a mystery. But it was also so exciting. I had to learn from methods around the world, and create a unique pearl culturing method that worked for the quahog.”

After graduation, he legally formed his business, Mercenaria Pearl, a company named for the Latin name for quahog. Breen is now pursuing growing cultured quahog pearls on a larger scale and is hopeful for future results. Because of their unique arrangement of calcite and aragonite crystals, he says they refract the light differently from conventional pearls, resulting in a porcelain-like finish in a variety of shades ranging from white to deep purple.

While anticipating his first crop, Breen sought out the owners of wild quahog pearls around the country and bought every one he could. In August of 2020, he made wild (not cultured) quahog pearls from his collection available to the public, and launched a line of fine quahog shell jewelry. He is now the owner of the world’s largest collection of quahog pearls, which he sells to private clients, jewelry designers, collectors of exotic gemstones and anyone else who desires a close connection to Rhode Island’s state shellfish from locals to collectors all over the world. Four wild pearls recently sold at auction for more than $32,000.

“They come in so many different shades, shapes and sizes,” he says. “It’s fun to work with clients to find the pearl that speaks to them most.”

Breen has also worked with local quahoggers and jewelry designers to create wampum jewelry made from the polished inside of quahog shells in various shades and patterns of purple and white. His pearls and jewelry can be purchased from his website or at the shop, Style Newport, in Newport.