Kahelelani are the tiniest and most prized of the shells used to create Hawaiian shell leis. They come in an amazing array of colors and can be woven into the most beautiful adornments. They have been used for centuries by the native people of these islands. Made famous by artisans on the island of Ni'ihau, they are now known throughout the world as one of the finest types of jewelry. When taken to the highest level, they are undoubtedly fine art. Kauai also has very talented lei makers and the sunrise shell or Langford's Pecten has become popular as a centerpiece that is combined with the more traditional styles of lei. When I first learned about the shells, the makers from Ni'ihau never used sunrise shells in their work, but it was more common on Kauai. If you browse through my site, you will see some excellent examples of more traditional styles as well as some of the more modern Kauai ones. One of my favorite aspects of this art form is that living creatures are never taken for their shells. The tiny shells wash up already vacant from the snails that they once housed. It is the most incredible form of recycling that I have found. there aren't many tools needed either, just stringing line and lots of time! Enjoy the combinations of Kahelelani, momi, and sunrise shells displayed on my site. Custom orders are always welcome. Feel free to contact me via phone or email if you have any questions or are interested in designing a piece! Aloha~ Rob Arita
Here are images of the three main shells that i use.
These are momi shells. When combined with kahelelani and sunrise shells, you can get stunning results!
These are kahelelani. They come in a wide range of colors. The most prized are the deep reds, hot pinks, and the dark chocolate colored ones. They are found in greatest numbers on Ni'ihau and Kauai, although isolated populations occur on all of the Hawaiian Islands. Kahelelani is the smallest, most valuable and hardest to prepare. They are also the most difficult to collect in usable quantities.
Sunrise shells are a fascinating member of the scallop or pecten family that live in deep Hawaiian waters. They do wash up on certain beaches when powerful ocean swells move debris from the depths to the shoreline. Although it is not a Ni'ihau tradition to use them as pendants, it became very popular on Kauai starting in the 1970's. When combined with kahelelani, momi, and kamoa, the variations are endless. It is the most beautiful shell I have seen and it has the most variation in color and patterning in the entire ocean~