Pearls and Mother of Pearl Jewelry and Beads

There’s a Fine Line Between Gravel and Glitz

64 Arts

With thanks for your patience while I was working on What to Feed Your Raiding Party (Chapter 3 is almost complete!), we’re returning to our regularly scheduled 17th Art: Mother of Pearl and other pretties.


While Mother of Pearl and Ivory are both mentioned, specifically, in this art, I’m going to make the executive decision to ignore Ivory because it’s pretty much either illegal to obtain or, for the legal varieties (mammoth tusks, for instance) it’s ridiculously expensive. Mother of Pearl, on the other hand, is very easy to find, quite durable and rather inexpensive.

In fact, you’ve seen it in more places than you probably realize.

Mother of Pearl Around the House

Mother of Pearl Around the House

Just in a quick look around I found MoP buttons on a summer dress, inlaid in the keys of my baritone (as is the case with many wind instruments) and, of course, in beads and jewelry.

But what IS Mother of Pearl?

From Shell to Shiny

From Shell to Shiny

Before I spill the beans, think about it for a second: Where do pearls come from? Certain oysters and mussels. So it stands to reason that mother of pearl has to do something with what makes the pearls in the first place. In many cases, it’s the iridescent inner layers of oyster shells, also known as nacre, it’s super sturdy and can be harvest, attached to other materials as a sort of veneer or even dyed all the colors of the rainbow, though I think it’s natural hue is the prettiest.

And how do I know, for sure, that it’s super strong? See that ring in the photos, the oval mother of pearl and sterling silver? I’ve had that ring for years (maybe 15?) and for the last 10 or so I’ve seldom taken it off. I sleep with it on, shower with it, do dishes, cook, craft, etc., and after all this time of constant wear and tear? It’s still absolutely gorgeous.

Which, you know, stands to reason since a lot of oyster shell ends up as gravel and not jewelry.

Care and Feeding of Mother of Pearl

Pearls and Mother of Pearl Jewelry and Beads

Our newest George (a Valentine's gift) got into my jewelry box and wanted to help out with today's post--I think the pearls against his fur are fabulous!

As demonstrated, mother of pearl can stand up to a lot. If you wear pieces while doing messy tasks, it’s important to make sure nothing gets stuck in the setting of mother of pearl–the “stone” may not be damaged, but you could look down one day and find it missing if the setting is compromised. I also avoid the ultrasonic cleaners for semi-precious gems and mother-of-pearl, just to be on the safe side.

Pearls, though, benefit the most from being worn! If they get a little dusty, a soft cloth can help shine them up but it’s nothing compared to the natural oils in our skin, so just running the strands through your hands every now and then will help retain their beauty (not to mention the indulgence factor). You can also wash them, gently, with a non-detergent soap. You’ll need to restring them after this, though.

As sturdy as they may be, always put on pearls after you’ve applied make-up, perfumes and hair sprays–these can damage the nacre irreparably. Have pearl necklaces and bracelets restrung every few years (I’ll show you how to do it yourself later in this series), depending on how often you wear them.


Photo Credits: all photos are taken by the author unless otherwise specified. The oyster shell photo was taken by monsieur paradis and used under Creative Commons via Flickr.

8 thoughts on “There’s a Fine Line Between Gravel and Glitz

  1. George looks gorgeous in his pearls. Unfortunately, I can’t wear pearls. Baylor burned me on that. πŸ™‚

    Blue topaz, however…any history on that?

    1. I don’t wear pearls very often, either. But they are nice to have around. That triple strand is destined to be remade into several smaller pieces, I think, so it becomes more wearable.

      Hmm, Blue Topaz, you say? Well, aside from being the state stone of Texas (which I’m guessing you already knew), true blue topaz is fairly rare–most of what is on the market has been treated to bring out the blue color or enhance the slight color already there. In fact, blue topaz, heat treated to a very dark shade, is sometimes substituted for blue sapphire.

      Metaphysically, blue topaz represents love and fidelity, and it’s cool blue color is said to be effective in cooling tempers–which is somewhat ironic as the word topaz comes from the Sanskrit for fire.

    1. Thank you! We actually went to our first Renn Faire this weekend and, despite the sunburn souvenirs we both brought back, we had a lot of fun!

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