Home News All You Need to Know About Purchasing and Maintaining Mother of Pearl

All You Need to Know About Purchasing and Maintaining Mother of Pearl

by Madonna

For those in pursuit of a resplendent addition to their jewelry collection, exploring the world of mother of pearl might just be the right move. While this exquisite gemstone has lately come into the spotlight, connoisseurs of fine jewelry have celebrated its allure for years, particularly due to its prominent role in the iconic Alhambra design by Van Cleef & Arpels. With its sophisticated, substantial appearance and a gleaming surface, mother of pearl frequently adorns cuff links, serves as a tasteful accent on tableware, and graces various accessories like vases and jewelry boxes.

Nicole Corsini, the marketing director of San Francisco-based company Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry, extols the virtues of mother of pearl: “Mother of pearl is particularly known for its iridescence. It’s also more affordable than most other gemstones, which makes it a great option for those on a budget.” In the following sections, we delve into all you need to know about introducing mother of pearl into your home and jewelry collection.


Understanding Mother of Pearl

Mother of pearl, also referred to as nacre, belongs to the realm of organic gemstones, deriving its origin from living organisms. Charlotte Macaulay, the designer and founder of the jewelry brand BEN, elucidates: “Mother of pearl is created by a secretion from certain types of mollusks, most commonly oysters. This secretion serves to protect the lining of their shells from bacteria, parasites, and various debris. It comprises a compound of calcium carbonate crystals, silk proteins, and other organic materials layered over the inner lining of the shells, giving rise to the captivating patterns seen on freshly harvested mollusks.”


In essence, mother of pearl emanates from the inner lining of mollusk shells, often mirroring the shell’s contours. The result is a captivating, ornamental structure that can be cut into substantial slabs, making it an appealing choice for pendants and other ornamental applications.


Distinguishing Mother of Pearl from Pearl

While both mother of pearl and pearls are fashioned from nacre, their formation and texture set them apart. Macaulay clarifies the dissimilarities: “Unlike spherical pearls, mother of pearl consists of a thin layer formed on the inner lining of the mollusk’s shell. This lining protects the shellfish from irritants and ensures its comfort. Pearls, on the other hand, take shape inside the mollusk when an irritant penetrates. The mollusk then envelops the irritant with layer upon layer of nacre, eventually giving rise to a spherical pearl.”

This distinction contributes significantly to the difference in price between mother of pearl and pearls. While every mollusk secretes nacre, the presence of a pearl is not guaranteed in every oyster. Macaulay expounds: “As irritants entering the shell are a relatively rare occurrence, the value of a pearl surpasses that of mother of pearl, which consistently lines the interior of the shell.”

Pearls also require a much longer time to form, taking several years compared to just a few months for mother of pearl. Larger pearls can demand even more time, rendering them much rarer than their mother of pearl counterparts. In terms of composition, pearls are entirely composed of nacre and consist of numerous layers. In contrast, mother of pearl, although containing nacre, also includes mineral deposits like calcium carbonate and other proteins, contributing to its iridescent sheen.

Considerations When Purchasing Mother of Pearl

While mother of pearl offers an affordable means of acquiring organic gemstones, quality remains essential for lasting beauty. Corsini offers guidance: “To ensure the authenticity of mother of pearl and the quality of the jewelry, it’s advisable to purchase from reputable sources, such as antique and vintage retailers, boutiques, galleries, department stores, or high-end design shops.” In terms of appearance and feel, genuine mother of pearl should exhibit an enticing iridescence and a smooth, silky surface.

According to Macaulay, four key factors can help verify the authenticity of mother of pearl: “First, it should feel cool to the touch—press it against your cheek to perceive its coolness. Second, it should have a satisfying weight for its size. Third, the front and back should appear different, so if it’s uniformly consistent all over, it’s not authentic. Fourth, when tapped against your teeth, it should produce a distinct clicking sound; counterfeit mother of pearl will produce a muffled thud.”

In terms of size and color, mother of pearl offers a wide range of options, as it is readily available in the market. While it predominantly presents shades of cream, white, or off-white, it can also exhibit colors such as gray, silver, yellow, black, blue-green, purple, and red, especially in rarer varieties. The color is determined by the type of mollusk from which it is sourced, and variations in stacked and interlocking platelets create diverse striations. Corsini adds, “The colorful and iridescent quality of nacre is influenced by both the thickness of the platelets and the space between them, and your personal preference will determine your favorite variety.”

Incorporating Mother of Pearl into Your Decor

Thanks to its affordability and versatility, mother of pearl offers abundant possibilities for adorning various aspects of life, as Macaulay emphasizes: “Mother of pearl has a long history in jewelry, from delicate earrings to bold statements, owing to its suitability for large cuts.” Yet, its applications extend beyond jewelry to encompass home accessories, including accent trays, boxes, mirrors, and cutlery. Some designers even employ it to craft intricate tile pieces that add a shimmering touch to mirrors.

In furniture, finely cut sheets of mother of pearl can be fashioned into stunning mosaic patterns. Think of sleek tiles in a bathroom or kitchen backsplash, door knobs, sink surfaces, or as accents on lighting fixtures. The beauty of mother of pearl lies in its versatility, as it can be incorporated in almost any setting where a touch of radiance is desired.

Caring for Mother of Pearl

Just like any gemstone, mother of pearl requires proper maintenance to preserve its luster. Corsini offers advice: “To retain the beauty of mother of pearl jewelry, gently wipe the piece with a soft, damp cloth after wearing it. You can also use warm water with a drop of dish soap, but be sure to thoroughly dry it after cleaning.”

Avoid using strong cleansers that could harm the delicate surface of the stone. Furthermore, refrain from wearing mother of pearl jewelry while swimming, exercising, gardening, or engaging in housework, as exposure to chlorine, harsh cleaners, and sweat can be detrimental to the gem’s condition.

Moisture can penetrate the tiny crevices of the surface, leading to swelling and cracking over time, resulting in discoloration and a loss of luster. Corsini emphasizes, “Although mother of pearl is resilient, it is susceptible to scratches, so it’s advisable to store it separately in a pouch when not in use. Avoid scrubbing it, as this could easily damage its porous outer layers.”


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