Luminous and shimmering with an ethereal appeal, mother of pearl is an opulent, natural material found in the iridescent lining of a mollusk shell. Distinguished by a delicate, pearlescent finish, this material boasts unique textures, natural veining, and mysterious movement that ensure each piece is individual. Popularly used for bath, flooring, and wall tiles, as well as on decorative countertops and fireplaces, the information that follows explores a brief overview of this intriguing natural material’s characteristics and composition.
Mother of pearl is most commonly found in three types of mollusks—pearl oysters, freshwater mussels, and abalone. In order to provide protection from parasites and foreign irritants, the inside of mollusk shells is coated with nacre—an organic substance that gives mother of pearl its multicolored iridescent allure. Nacre also acts as the building block of pearls. Its layers build around small objects that appear inside of the shell to protect from potential threat—these layers coat the object, and a pearl is slowly formed.
As a nuanced natural material, the color of mother of pearl is dependent on the type and shade of the shell from which it is sourced. While white is the most common hue, mother of pearl can be found in a kaleidoscopic collection of colorways that encompass bright shades, such as yellow, pink, and green, as well as darker, dusky tones of brown and black. While many mother of pearl materials are inherently multicolored in tone, they can also be dyed to create an endless array of options.
This timeless material has a history that spans centuries, cultures, and continents. With intricate inlays placed in silver pieces that date back as far as 2600 B.C., mother of pearl is thought to have been highly regarded in Mesopotamia and was often used to honor royalty. In ancient Egypt, mother of pearl was used to embellish silver pieces, and has been discovered in ancient pyramids and tombs. The material was also immensely popular in China during the Shang and Ming Dynasties when it was used for furniture, jewelry, and clothing.
Esteemed throughout the globe for thousands of years, mother of pearl continues to offer a transformative allure with the elusive and iridescent look of pearls, that is delicately rendered from the reflection of light. Eliciting an ephemeral aesthetic, this natural material can be used to add a sophisticated and lustrous patina to interior spaces across walls, floors, furniture and accessories. Capitalizing on the lure of the natural world, each piece of mother of pearl is fully unique with rainbow-like shine and dazzling hues of all shades.