Aloha Kahelelani is dedicated to providing the finest quality, 100% Hawaiian shell jewelry directly to clients around the world! There is a global fascination with the art of Ni'ihau shell lei making.
I'm Rob Arita and I do all of the work from start to finish...from collecting and designing to the final preparation and stringing of the shells. Many people are unaware that the kahelelani shell is found not only on Niihau, but in varying degrees on all of the Hawaiian Islands. I work with shells from Kauai, Niihau, and Molokai. Some feel it is more imortant to have shells from a certain island, others just want the most vibrant ones available. Each island has unique subspecies. Whatever you desire, I can accommodate you. While many of the shells from Kauai are dull and lacking luster, there are some secret spots that produce vibrantly colored and lustrous shells on a consistent basis. These shells are every bit as valuable as those from any of the other islands. Most important is the care that is taken by the collector to harvest the most intact, colorful, and finely patterned specimens
What Are Kahelelani Shells?
Kahelelani are the tiniest and most prized of the Hawaiian shells that are sewn into leis. They are commonly referred to as Ni'ihau shells, but are one of the three types that are most commonly used for making Hawaiian shell jewelry. The other two are mom and laiki, which are larger. In comparison, a double strand choker of kahelelani will require about 700 shells and a double strand of momi will contain about 250.
While kahelelani are found on most of the Hawaiian islands, they are most abundant on Kauai and Niihau. They have been sewn into leis for centuries. I use only gem quality shells and each piece will be have precise documentation of origin. If a lei is all Kauai shells, all Niihau shells, or a mixture, it will be labeled accordingly. A gem quality lei from Kauai has the same value as a gem quality Niihau shell as far as my pricing goes. For instance, and I think you will agree, 24k gold from Californiais equal in value to 24k gold from Oregon.
The Ni'ihau shell lei making process is tedious from start to finish. On a good day of collecting, a skilled picker might harvest a film canister of prime quality shells in 4-6 hours. Unfortunately, the shells are only on the shoreline in good numbers for a handful of days. All of this time is spent on hands and knees or lying in the sand. People frequently ask if I just scoop up the shells. They are always shocked when they learn that they collected one at a time.
The best beaches produce kahelelani in a full range of colors including tan, light pink, hot pink, red, burgundy, brown and olive which is more abundant on Niihau than Kauai. Kamoa is a yellow to orange turban shell that has the same shape as kahelelani but can grow to a much larger size. Only the juveniles can be used in the leis, usually as accents. They are the hardest to find with good color and small size to match the kahelelani. There effect is stunning.
Once the shells are collected, they must be sorted by size and color. The most difficult job is cleaning the aperture of the shell which is almost always with a piece of shell, sand, or coral. I have even seen ones clogged with a baby kahelelani shell! Finally, they are pierced and strung.
Sewing lei kahelelani is a spiritual endeavor requiring endless patience and love. We pray for the shells to wash up on the beaches, acknowledging their magic and beauty, realizing their integral part in our chain of life on this planet. This intention creates pieces that carry this aloha to the people who wear them...a prayer in a strand, reminding us of ways that are being forgotten in our technological world.
I am the exclusive maker of all the shell leis that are showcased on this site. Aloha Kahelelani is dedicated to preserving the ancient Hawaiian art of shell lei making. My specialty is lei kahelelani poepoe which is sewn round like a rope. All of the pieces are of museum quality and custom orders are always welcome.