What is Mother Of Pearl & Where Does it Come From

mother of pearl

If you’ve been looking into pearls and pearl jewellery, you’ve probably stumbled across the term ‘mother of pearl’ and wondered what it meant. They’re not pearls, but they share part of their name and even share some characteristics. So what are the differences between pearls and mother of pearl, and where exactly does mother of pearl come from?

Although both mother of pearl and pearls themselves come from oysters, there are some major differences between the two.

And while mother of pearl isn’t considered a precious gem like pearls are, they are both formed in similar ways.

Find out more about how mother of pearl and pearls are created, and why they’re different below.

What is mother of pearl?

Both pearls and mother of pearl are, to some extent, made of the same thing. This is a substance called nacre. Nacre is what the oyster produces in order to protect itself when an irritant (like a grain of sand) finds its way into the shell.

Eventually, these layers of nacre forming spherically around the irritant will become a pearl. Find out about how pearls form in more detail if you’d like to understand the process from start to finish.

So, both are made from nacre from a mollusk. Then what’s the difference between pearls and mother of pearl? Though they’re both made of nacre, mother of pearl is the thin lining of nacre just inside the shell. The purpose of this lining is to protect the oyster’s shell from bacteria, parasites, and debris.

What does mother of pearl look like?

Mother of pearl is usually opaque or milky in terms of colour, rather than transparent, much like pearls themselves.  The exact colour of mother of pearl will vary depending on the mollusk that produced it, and even the water in which it was produced. Typically though, mother of pearl is found in some variation of white, cream, grey, silver, green, blue, yellow, and even red.

If you’ve ever seen the inside of a mollusk’s shell and it looks iridescent, gleaming, and almost rainbow-like in terms of the way it reflects colour, that’s mother of pearl.

As a result of the fact that mother of pearl is the secretions which line the inside of the shell, it isn’t round, like a pearl. This is because it’s shaped however the shell is. That means it’s larger, flatter, and can be used in bigger pieces of jewellery like watch faces.

What is mother of pearl worth?

Seeing as pearls and mother of pearl are both nacre, do they hold similar values? Not really. Pearls are much more valuable, for a variety of reasons.

It might sound confusing, but while mollusks that produce nacre will always produce mother of pearl, natural pearls are only formed very rarely. So firstly, pearls are much rarer than mother of pearl. This is the main reason that pearls are worth so much more.

On top of that, pearls are considered precious gemstones and are usually crafted into luxury jewellery like pearl necklaces. These timeless pieces tend to be treasured, and because good craftmanship and design come with a price tag, pearl jewellery is expensive.

Mother of pearl, on the other hand, tends to be carved into bold statement pieces of jewellery, art, or even home décor. This is often due to the fact that it comes in much larger pieces than pearls.

Want to find out more about pearl value, or ever wondered why some pearls command such high prices? Read our blog on pearl value and worth here.

Pearl jewellery

If you’re in the market for something that will last you a lifetime, pearls win hands down. Though they’re more of a luxury item than mother of pearl and will be a bigger initial cost outlay, there’s no doubt that pearl jewellery will remain a classic for years to come.

Whether you opt for a chic necklace of Akoya pearls or something bolder like drop earrings, pearls have already been in fashion for centuries, and will be a timeless choice for centuries more.

Image Credit: Hannes Grobe/AWI, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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