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Mother of Pearl Facts and Photos

mother of pearl shell

Mother of Pearl also Known as Nacre

Mother of pearl also known as nacre (pronounced NAY-ker) is a naturally occurring iridescent substance that lines the shells of some fresh and saltwater molluscs.  It's the inner layer of their shells.

Mother of pearl is widely used as a decorative material in jewellery, inlay work and other decorative items. Similar to a spider's silk it's an exceptionally strong resilient material with a unique play of colour.  The colour can vary depending on the species of mollusc and conditions in which it was formed.

Mother of Pearl is composed of thin layers of the mineral aragonite.  These are stacked and held together by a protein called conchiolin. The combination of the layers and the way they're stacked gives mother of pearl its unique iridescent properties.

Mother of pearl comes predominantly from the shell of the pearl oyster, freshwater pearl mussel and abalone.  Abalone is a type of gastropod or sea snail.
Mother of pearl is known to have been used at least as far back as 4200 B.C.  More recently it was widely used by the Ottoman Turks during the 15th century.  Koran cases, writing desks, chests, shutters for windows and doors, pulpits and lecterns were all made from mother of pearl. It was was also used in the architecture and decoration of mosques and palaces.

Mother of pearl buttons were a major business in the early days of Illinois in the USA.  Precise information about how early the industry began is vague but it's known to have been in progress during the early 1900's. 

America was exporting billions of tons of mother of pearl buttons all over the world up until World War II.  After the war the industry was pretty much wiped out.  This was because of the introduction of newly invented plastic.

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