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Why Buy Mother of Pearl Jewelry

Mother of Pearl Cameo for Pendant
Mother of Pearl Cameo for Pendant

Who would have known that underneath the shells of such ordinary (perhaps even gross-looking) shellfish, there lies some of the world's most luxurious material. Hiding within the plain exterior, it's quite surprising that for thousands of years, millions of people from nearly every culture and continent have treasured the silvery lining of mollusks, including delicious oysters, mussels and meaty abalone. Most people are familiar with pearl, but the same cannot be said about the mother of pearl. Even though mother-of-pearl is technically not a gemstone per se, it is still an extraordinary material and is highly sought-after for its soft and silky luster, and perhaps even more so, for its remarkable exhibition of iridescence.

As its descriptive name suggests, mother-of-pearl is exactly that; the host or creator responsible for the growth of pearl. Mother-of-pearl may also sometimes be referred or advertised as simply 'nacre'. Nacre is the same material that makes up the composition of pearls, as well as various other materials too. By composition, mother-of-pearl nacre is a gem-quality hardened form of calcium carbonate. As a byproduct of fascinating marine organisms, mother-of-pearl is formed through a repetitive process of fine secretions by shellfish. As each secretion layers, it hardens in the form of extremely thin platelets, each measuring less than half a micron (0.00050 mm) in length. The platelets are composed of aragonite (calcium carbonate) and conchiolin, or conchin, which is a mixture of fibrous complex proteins.

Mother of Pearl Double Brooch
Mother of Pearl Flower Doublet for Brooch

As the mixture of organic material grows within the shells, the result is a strong, resilient and glossy material. Most mother-of-pearl is usually white to gray in color, though other colors can also be formed through the growth of nacre. The attractive iridescence of mother-of-pearl is owed to the structured formation of alternating layers of platelets. As light strikes the glossy nacreous surface, it is reflected and scattered in the form of prismatic colors though the interference and diffraction of light. The spectacular show of light results in the optical phenomenon that has won over the hearts of millions upon millions of jewelers and jewelry manufacturers. Today, you can find mother-of-pearl in just about every retail jewelry store, as well as online gemstone suppliers too.

Mother-of-pearl has become one of the most popular materials, highly sought-after by jewelry designers and manufacturers for its attractive luster and iridescence, and maybe more importantly, for its versatility. Mother-of-pearl is often used for the production of watches, including watch dials and faces; buttons, pins and brooches; musical instruments; ornaments; and also for jewelry inlay. It is especially popular for inlay set with silver or black metal alloys and enamel; it is strikingly subtle, yet uniquely noticeable. Some mother-of-pearl, particularly material from conch shells, is known to exhibit a porcelain-like luster. So for those seeking jewelry materials that have the silky luster of pearls, consider using mother-of-pearl for your next big project. It is extremely affordable, even when cut into large single-piece cameos or carvings. It is relatively easy to source solid gems weighing 20 carats or more for less than a dollar per carat; the same couldn't be said for cultured pearls, as these can sometimes fetch hundreds of dollars per carat, though they are usually bought and sold by millimeter size rather than by carat weight, unlike most gemstones.

Mother of Pearl Watch Face
Mother of Pearl Watch Face

The benefits of mother-of-pearl are immeasurable. It is special not only for its luster and appearance, but also for its purity of nature. There are not many gems in this world that are as natural as mother-of-pearl, especially considering that is completely organic. Organic gems are those that were produced by living (or once living) organisms. The small group of organic gemstones includes amber, ivory, jet and ammolite. It is wonderful to know that most nacreous mother-of-pearl on the market today is produced by completely natural processes, unlike pearls which are almost always cultured.

Pearls are cultured, but most people don't associate them with the term 'lab-grown', though technically they are depending on the definition. Despite the fact that even though they could be considered 'lab-grown', cultured pearl is certainly not synthetic; since synthetic has an entirely different meaning. However, the natural occurrence of pearl is incredibly rare, where naturally occurring mother-of-pearl is more widely available, and therefore has the advantage with regard to being natural and organic. Thus, it is not only more affordable, but mother-of-pearl is also much more easily found. It could be considered by many as one of the most essential gemmy materials today when it comes to jewelry. So if you haven't tried it yet, what are you waiting for? Add a splash of organic iridescence to bright up your own designs, whether they are antique ring designs, or simple plain pendants, you won't be disappointed.

  • First Published: August-25-2015
  • Last Updated: November-07-2018
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