Great question, Diane! Abalone is a kind of sea snail that is not only collected for its beautiful mother-of-pearl shell, but also for its meat in some countries. Abalone can be found nearly worldwide, except the western Atlantic Sea (eastern North & South America). The name `abalone` comes from the Spanish word `abulon.` Beautiful abalone specimens can be found in New Zealand, where the Maori word for them is Paua. Some people tend to associate paua with brighter colors, such as vivid blues, pinks, and greens; paua shell cabochons are commonly dyed to enhance their color.
Abalone and paua are some of the few organic materials widely regarded as jewelry-quality, others being coral, pearl, amber, jet, and ivory.
Abalone on right, Paua on the left.