Natural Mother-of-Pearl Shell Meaning and Properties

Mother-of-Pearl History

Mother-of-pearl shell for jewelry refers to the nacre that coats the inside layer of the mollusk shell which is used to form pearls--hence, it's the mother of the pearl. Mother-of-pearl shell jewelry can include much larger focal pieces than simple pearls since nacre substance takes up a whole shell's interior, offering a larger working surface for carving. In addition to jewelry, mother-of-pearl shell has been used in medieval European, East Asian and Islamic religious art. Starting during the Victorian Era, mother-of-pearl shell began to also be used for clock faces, buttons, jewelry boxes and more. One especially popular use was inlay work, such as the handles of knives and pistols, as well as historical and contemporary use as inlays for guitars and other musical instruments.

Mother-of-pearl shell jewelry is considered organic jewelry, yet not always renewable. Therefore, environmental concerns have led to some designers using only vintage mother-of-pearl shell or selecting shell rough by the ecological stability of the pearl or seafood farm from which it came.

Mother-of-Pearl Metaphysical Properties

Natural mother-of-pearl shell has tremendous spiritual value for those whose high goals and attitudes keep them feeling stressed. Mother-of-pearl shell is commonly believed to attract prosperity and is often used in mystical work and lore to heighten intuition, psychic sensitivity and imagination. It is believed that mother-of-pearl shell offers soothing, motherly protection from negative energy and love. Due to this, mother-of-pearl shell is a recommended crystal healing gemstone for children.

Mother-of-pearl shell turns on the Solar Plexus Chakra as well as the Throat Chakra.

Mother-of-Pearl Geological Properties

Natural mother-of-pearl shell is found all over the world and is more common than pearl. This is because the mollusks that produce pearls will always have a shell, but will very rarely contain a pearl. Found in saltwater and freshwater varieties, mother-of-pearl shell sources include Australia, Burma (Myanmar), Central America, China, Europe, French Polynesia, Japan, the Gulf of Manaar (between India and Sri Lanka), Madagascar, North America, the Persian Gulf, the Philippines, the South Pacific Islands, South America and Southeast Asia.

Mineral Information Calcium carbonate, aragonite
Chemical Composition 84-92% calcium-carbonate, 4-13% organic substances, 3-4% water
Color Cream to tawny champagne color
Hardness 3 to 4 (Mohs)
Specific Gravity 2.60 - 2.78
Refractive Index 1.52 - 1.66

Proper Care of Natural Mother-of-Pearl Shell

Wash mother-of-pearl shells or shell beads with water and a gentle soap. Do not scrub the beads, as you could damage the porous outer layers. Use your fingers or a soft cloth to remove stubborn areas of dirt. Jewel Brite™ is a liquid cleaner that is safe for most stones and contains no ammonia, acid or alcohol. Always test a small area first to watch for any reactions. A soft cloth can be used to clean the beads or shells if the piece cannot be submerged.

To learn more about natural mother-of-pearl shell and other gemstones, order your copy of Walter Schumann's revised and expanded edition of Gemstones of the World.

Designing with Natural Mother-of-Pearl Shell

The pearly luster of mother-of-pearl shell, called "orient," comes from an overlap of aragonite platelets under a skin of conchiolin (an organic substance). Mother-of-pearl shell offers a feminine iridescence that mixes beautifully with the shell beads. Natural mother-of-pearl shell is not bleached, making it a popular choice among the ecologically minded.

A braided belt made from woven cord and mother-of-pearl shell drops is ideal for Boho styling. A variety of shell, including mother-of-pearl shell, is also a popular design choice for creating Southwest Native American jewelry. For example, the white of mother-of-pearl shell makes a clean contrast to warm earth tone hues from crystal beads such as Colorado topaz, the deep gold of crystal metallic sunshine and mocha. You can keep the same type of color contrast in the family by pairing up natural shell with mother-of-pearl shell dyed or coated dark gold. Seashell jewelry like beads, drops, focals and charms can be made with shell components made from luminescent mother-of-pearl, radiant golden lip shell and stylish shell heishi beads.

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