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What is Mother of Pearl? Everything You Need to Know | Linjer Jewelry

Mother of pearl is a material that is both beautiful and impressively strong. Scientists still marvel at the mother of pearl stone’s unique combination of levity, firmness, and durability, the secret of which is found in its clever interlocking mechanical structure. While modern-day engineers and architects have a lot to learn from the genius of this modest treasure of nature, most of us are attracted to mother of pearl for her visual aesthetic. The stunning iridescent appearance of this natural phenomenon has inspired more than a poem or two. And, her creamy, translucent rainbow hues can be found gracing anything from hallways to earlobes.

Read on to learn about the history of mother of pearl and any other nacre-related thing that may have piqued your curiosity.

What is Mother of Pearl?

Mother of pearl is technically termed “nacre”, which is a crystallized mineral compound that forms on the inner shell layer of certain mollusks. This smooth and iridescent substance is structured in tiny stacked and interlocking platelets bound together by silk-like proteins, principally conchiolin. Both the thickness of the platelets and the amount of space between them play a part in the colorful and iridescent quality of nacre. Structured differently, it wouldn’t display that milky rainbow that mesmerizes us as it catches the light.

Who would have thought that such a stunningly beautiful material could be found inside shellfish? Saltwater oysters and abalone, along with freshwater mussels, secrete nacre along the inner walls of their shells for a practical (rather than aesthetic) purpose—to add one more layer of protection against parasites and other irritants that could be harmful to their soft internal tissue.

And, in case you were wondering, yes, pearls—that queen of gems—are made from the very same stuff!

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History of Mother of Pearl

Mother of pearl has a long history across many cultures. Though we don’t know exactly when it was discovered—one can imagine the surprise at the humble-looking mollusks' interior splendor—we do know that mother of pearl has been a highly-prized material for thousands of years. Its other-worldly quality made it an instant token of royalty and deity.

Nacre inlay has been employed to adorn buildings, furniture, clothing, personal accessories, jewelry, tools, and musical instruments (just to name a few things) in Asia and the Middle East as far back as 2500 B.C. Archaeologists and historians have found evidence of its use in China, India, Egypt, and the Americas. And, at least since Marco Polo made his hallmark voyage to India in 1292, artisans and traders on the European continent have also had a keen interest in mother of pearl.

Mother of Pearl Meaning

A lightweight yet amazingly strong material, mother of pearl can bring both levity and strength to those in its presence. And, its energy, or the vibration of the sound it makes, can be compared to a musical instrument; it carries within it a very soothing quality for both the body and mind, linked to the gentle movement of water.

The name mother of pearl probably comes from the fact that pearls are “born” within the nacre-lined “belly” of the mollusk, making mother-of-peal a maternal archetype of sorts—a symbol of the divine feminine and motherly wisdom, full of love and nurturing that can even bring balance to the female hormones.

Mother of pearl’s luminous glow is thought to symbolize its quality as a source of connection to light, clarity, and intuition—helping its wearers to feel guided and confident in their decisions and discernment.

And, of course, its physical role as shield against irritants reflects mother of pearl’s metaphysical role as a defender and protector, hindering and transforming negative energy.

Is Mother of Pearl a Real Pearl?

No, mother of pearl is not a “real pearl,” but it is made from the same material. Both pearls and mother of pearl are made from nacre, and both primarily serve as protective mechanisms. Mother of pearl, which is much more abundant, comes from the nacre-lining found on the inside of the mollusk’s shell, a special protective coating to keep itself sealed off from parasites and other irritants.

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The rarer pearl is made from nacre that is slowly deposited around an irritant that was insistent enough to make it through the mollusk’s several protective layers—the last resort, if you will.

The Differences between Pearls and Mother of Pearl

Unlike a pearl, mother of pearl is not a single unit; instead, it refers to the raw material that pearls are made from, but more specifically to that material when it’s found coating the inner part of a mollusk’s shell. Since all nacre-producing mollusks coat their shells, mother of pearl is a more readily available precious material, giving it a more accessible price point. Mother of pearl also has to go through a special process to be extracted from the mollusk’s shell, and it can be adapted into many different shapes.

Pearls, on the other hand, are much rarer, especially those found in nature. Not all nacre-producing mollusks produce pearls, and, even when cultured, they can take years to reach maturity. The complexity and scarcity of the pearl’s formation give it a higher market value.

Is Mother of Pearl Considered a Precious Stone?

Though often dubbed a “gemstone,” mother of pearl is considered an organic gem because it is formed in a living creature, and not technically a stone. Mother of pearl, or nacre, is a semi-precious material and one of the more affordable options for fine jewelry and decor. Traditionally associated with luxury and royalty, mother of pearl has become so versatile that it can be used to accommodate many designs, shapes, and styles—from elegant watches to bohemian earrings.

What is Mother of Pearl - Vintage Mother of Pearl Ring - Elisabeth

Different Uses of Mother of Pearl

Mother of pearl is used in many different types of handicrafts for both its aesthetic and energetic properties. You’ll find mother of pearl used to add beauty to jewelry, clothing, and personal accessories—like watch faces and buttons—as well as inlaid into furniture, musical instruments, tools, and decorative objects. Mother of pearl has even been used in home decorating with floor tile, countertops, and backsplashes.

People may choose to wear, use, or incorporate mother of pearl into their clothing, homes, and personal items for its beautiful appearance, calming effect, and energy protection.

Value of Mother of Pearl Jewelry vs. Pearl Gemstone Jewelry

Mother of pearl jewelry is the perfect choice for those who want gorgeous, pearlescent pieces without the wallet-ouch.

Because pearls are more difficult to source or cultivate than mother of pearl and the process is more time-consuming, pearl gemstone jewelry is usually the more expensive option. Pearl jewelry traditional name brands can value anywhere from a $150 single freshwater pearl ring to a $10,000 string of Tahitian pearls. And, then, there are historic and specialty pearl jewelry items—timeless works of art, really—that are priced in the millions. Elizabeth Taylor’s La Peregrina necklace is a famous example.

While you’re not likely to find mother of pearl jewelry being sold for millions, it is still valuable, especially when it is set in precious metals, features intricate designs, or is part of a historical artifact. Still, as mother of pearl is readily available and easier to work with, you’ll find many beautiful jewelry pieces within accessible reach. A simple yet elegant mother of pearl necklace might cost around $100. A solid gold band featuring a delicate mosaic of mother of pearl inlays might be fetched for closer to $500.

As you can see, many factors influence the value of both pearl and mother of pearl jewelry. But, both types are enjoyed and appreciated by jewelers and jewelry enthusiasts alike.

What is Mother of Pearl - Mother of Pearl Necklace

Can I Shower With Mother of Pearl Jewelry?

You should avoid showering with mother of pearl jewelry. If you’ve ever read a guide on how to keep your jewelry in good condition—well, you probably know the drill by now. But, just in case you’re new to the world of jewelry care, let’s recap: it’s not the end of the world if your mother of pearl (or other pearl jewelry) comes into contact with water. (You might be thinking that mother of pearl spent practically its whole life in the water.)

Exposure to water and chemicals in soaps and shampoos can cause damage to the delicate surface of the mother of pearl surface. The moisture can seep into the tiny crevices of the mother of pearl, causing it to swell and crack over time, leading to discoloration and loss of luster. Additionally, harsh chemicals in cleaning products can cause further damage to the surface of the jewelry. It is a best practice to remove mother of pearl jewelry before showering or swimming to prevent damage and ensure it maintains its beauty and quality for years to come.

Should I Buy Mother of Pearl Jewelry?

If you’re thinking of purchasing mother of pearl jewelry, instead of asking “why?”, you might want to ask, “why not?”. Mother of pearl has an absolutely stunning appearance and affordable prices. And, her shimmery, translucent designs have the added benefit of bringing calm, clarity, and protection to her wearers. At Linjer, you can shop our unique collection of timeless Mother of Pearl Jewelry to find your perfect piece.

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