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Mother of Pearl Facts and Photos

mother of pearl shell

What is Mother of Pearl?

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

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 exceptionally strong and resilient and exhibits a unique play of colour. The colour that's present can vary depending on the species of mollusc and the conditions under which it 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 how 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 also used in the architecture and decoration of mosques and palaces.

Mother of Pearl buttons was 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 1900s. 

America exported billions of tons of Mother of Pearl buttons worldwide up until World War II. After the war, the industry was pretty much wiped out because of the introduction of newly invented plastic.

The Mother of Pearl at the top of our article is a piece from our collection.

Pop-up photo: Aragonite - Courtesy of Stan Celestian. 

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