What is Mother of Pearl? Everything You Need to Know

mother of pearl

Mother of pearl is the term used for the iridescent substance that forms the inner layer of the shell of some mollusks. It’s often used to make unique pieces of jewelry, among other uses, that have a boho-chic aesthetic. Because of the close relationship between mother of pearl and pearls, people sometimes confuse the two, though many significant differences exist. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at mother of pearl and cover key points including where it comes from, its different uses, and the ways in which it differs from actual pearls.

The Golden Question: What is Mother-of-Pearl?

Mother-of-pearl is the iridescent inside lining of a mollusk shell. It is most commonly found in three types of mollusks—pearl oysters, freshwater mussels, and abalone. To protect the inside of their shells from parasites and foreign irritants, the mollusk coats it with nacre—an organic substance that gives mother-of-pearl its iridescent effect and distinct beauty. This multicolored iridescence is caused by the way light reflects on the layers of nacre on the shell.

Different Uses of Mother of Pearl

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Though mother of pearl is primarily used for jewelry, people have also used them for many other purposes. Home designers have often used mother of pearl for home décor, commonly in the form of mosaic tile designs. Mother of pearl is also used to accent various musical instruments including guitars, harmonicas, accordions, and ouds. Finally, you’ll also often find mother of pearl featured on women’s clothing as buttons, as well as on cufflinks for men.

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The History of Mother of Pearl

In previous centuries, some cultures placed great importance on mother of pearl, sometimes more than pearls themselves. In ancient Egypt, mother of pearl was used to embellish silver pieces. Mother of pearl was also immensely popular in China during the Shang and Ming Dynasties. Finally, in the Americas, Native American tribes regularly traded mother of pearl and used it to create beads and jewelry.

According to popular belief, one reason why it’s called mother of pearl is that the nacre-lined shells are the belly in which pearls are produced. Indeed, mother of pearl and actual pearl gemstones do share some common characteristics, but that said, they’re also very different from one another. Below, we discuss some of the central ways that mother of pearl differs from actual pearl gemstones. 

How is Mother of Pearl Different from Pearls?

Both mother of pearl and pearl gemstones are made of nacre, but mother of pearl refers specifically to the nacre-coated inner-shell of the mollusk. Pearls, on the other hand, are made completely out of nacre. When an irritant gets trapped inside a mollusk, the mollusk, in order to protect itself, coats this irritant with layers upon layers of nacre until it develops into a pearl three to four years later.

The Difference in Supply and Availability

In addition to the difference in composition, mother of pearl and pearls also differ in their supply and availability. Especially compared to mother of pearl, pearls are much rarer. While most mollusks produce mother of pearl, the same cannot be said for pearl gemstones. In fact, only a very low percentage of mollusks produce pearls. Even with advances in pearl cultivation that create ideal conditions for pearl development, an oyster or mussel developing a pearl is never guaranteed. Lastly, more species of mollusks are able to produce mother of pearl, while only a few types have the ability to create gem-quality pearls.

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Value of Mother of Pearl Jewelry VS Pearl Gemstone Jewelry

Because mother of pearl is much less rare than pearl gemstones, it does not hold value as well. Considering that there is a much larger supply of mother of pearl, it’s easy to understand why it is so affordable. While pearl jewelry will retain its value forever, this isn’t necessarily true for mother of pearl jewelry.

JEWELRY SPOTLIGHT:
FRESHWATER PEARLS

Most people resort to mother of pearl jewelry because it’s more affordable than real pearl jewelry. In recent years, freshwater pearls have become an extremely popular option because of their affordability, which is comparable to the prices of mother of pearl jewelry. Browse through our extensive collection of mother of pearl jewelry to find a piece you love at a price that matches your budget.

Types of Jewelry

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Mother of pearl jewelry often features a large piece of mother of pearl that is set. Because mother of pearl comes from the inner shell, mother of pearl pieces can be rather large, and come in an array of interesting colors and variations. Mother of pearl jewelry can be found at many clothing retailers, as well as on handmade jewelry websites such as Etsy. Mother of pearl jewelry pieces often feature a boho-chic aesthetic.

There is no doubt that pearl jewelry has a level of luxury, elegance, and sophistication that is not offered with mother of pearl jewelry. The pearl necklace, for example, is considered one of the most iconic pieces of jewelry for all time. Pearl jewelry is often strung using multiple matching gemstones that are carefully selected. Pearl jewelry is considered much more high-end, and as a result, is exclusively found at fine jewelry retailers. Pearl jewelry can be used to complement a variety of different styles and outfits, both casual and formal occasions.  

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Many people often settle for mother-of-pearl jewelry because they believe pearl jewelry is too far out of their price range. However, this is not always true. At Laguna Pearl, we import directly from high-quality pearl cultivators throughout the world, allowing us to cut out the middle man and offer our customers the lowest prices on all types of pearl jewelry. Instead of cutting yourself short, browse through our extensive collection of pearl jewelry to find a piece you love that fits with your budget and style.