Everything You Need To Know About Mother of Pearl

Rectangle Mother of Pearl PlacematRectangle Mother of Pearl Placemat

When it comes to handcrafted, luxurious fashion and home decor, those made out of mother of pearl are the way to go. From jewelry, bags, furniture, and more, there’s no doubt that products made of this material are highly-valued, worthy additions to your wardrobe and home. 

But you may ask, “What is mother of pearl? How is it different from pearls?” and other similar questions. While mother of pearl products and items such as real pearl necklaces and South Sea pearls carry that same elegance and refined beauty, there are key differences. Read our guide below to know more about what mother of pearl is.

Mother of pearl: the basics

Mother of Pearl Jewelry Box 5x7  Blacklip Mother of Pearl Picture Frame 5x7

Left: Mother of Pearl Jewelry Box 5x7
Right: Blacklip Mother of Pearl Picture Frame 5x7

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mother of pearl, also known as nacre, as “the hard pearly iridescent substance forming the inner layer of a mollusk shell.” A key characteristic of mother of pearl is its iridescence, which produces a multi-colored glow that varies from different angles. While the mother of pearl and pearls are closely related, they are two different things. Mother of pearl is the actual layer coating the shell, while pearls are the gems formed through layers of nacre covering an irritant that enters the mollusk. Nevertheless, they both carry that sophisticated radiance due to the subtle glow they emit on their surfaces.

History behind the craft

Geometric Mother of Pearl Clutch Bag in White
Geometric Mother of Pearl Clutch Bag in White

Contrary to how we value pearls now, they weren’t as sought-after as mother of pearl was back then. According to the
American Museum of Natural History, Japanese shell divers paid no mind to pearls while Polynesians merely treated them as playthings. In contrast, mother of pearl was highly valued, often used by the upper class. Different cultures such as ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, and India also used mother of pearl for various decorative purposes. 

Back then, the Philippines was one of the primary sources of mother of pearl. Raw mother of pearl would be delivered via galleons from the Philippines to Mexico and then to Spain by ships in the 16th century.
Mother of Pearl Round Glass Coaster Yellow White Mother of Pearl Tray
Left: Mother of Pearl Round Glass Coaster Yellow
Right: White Mother of Pearl Tray

Mother of pearl in the Philippines

On October 15, 1996, the Pinctada maxima, a species of pearl oysters and source of our Philippine South Sea pearls, was declared our national gem by then President Fidel V. Ramos through Proclamation No. 905, s. 1996. Though pearls are significantly more precious today, mother of pearl remains timeless and retains its charm.
Mother of Pearl Tableware Set

Mother of Pearl Tableware Set

Beauty in versatility

Aside from jewelry, mother of pearl has a variety of uses in our daily lives. Because of its unique iridescence and shine, it has become a popular material to use in home decor such as table sets, coasters, trays and jewelry boxes.  Since metal spoons often affect the taste of certain dishes, mother of pearl is also used in fine dining, specifically for caviar spoons in order to retain the delicate flavor of this gourmet favorite.

Mother of Pearl Cutwork Nipa Hut & Carabao Design
Mother of Pearl Cutwork Nipa Hut & Carabao Design

Get the best handcrafted mother of pearl products at Kultura. Locally sourced from our seas and handmade with care by artisans in Cebu, each one will surely elevate and add elegance to any space in your home.