Mother of Pearl is not a mineral but an organic gem, which is one that has been created by a living organism. Mother of Pearl, also called “nacre”, is an iridescent layer of material which forms the shell lining of many molluscs. The molluscs create Mother of Pearl to protect themselves. In addition to forming part of the shell, Mother of Pearl also insulates molluscs from bacterial infection, and reduces irritation from organic material which drifts into the shell.
Pearl oysters, freshwater pearl mussels, and abalone are the main sources of Mother of Pearl. It is widely used as an inlay for decoration especially in jewellery, furniture, and musical instruments. Mother of Pearl comes in several natural colours, and is also sometimes bleached or dyed. The dye retains the shimmering layers which make Mother of Pearl so sought after.
Traditional legends, gemstone folklore and healing properties of Mother of Pearl
The pearly lining of shells has been highly regarded by those living by the oceans for thousands of years. And it is believed that Mother of Pearl has been enchanting jewellers for over 5000 years. In China, it has been held in high regard for many thousands of years and there are numerous references to it in Chinese myths and legends, and for its use in Chinese medicines.
The name Mother of Pearl is said to have been given to the inner layer of shells by Queen Elizabeth I. In the 1500’s Mother of Pearl was at its peak in popularity and over-sourcing meant supplies in the Persian Gulf were almost exhausted. This led sailors to look further afield for it. In 1568 the Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña discovered the Solomon Islands, which were rich in both gold and Mother of Pearl. He named the islands after King Solomon who, according to legend owned a secret source of mines that no one knew about, and Mendaña believed that he had found them within these islands.
Mother of Pearl is associated with prosperity and good luck, as well as with mental clarity, intuition, sensitivity, imagination, adaptability and cooperation. It is also said to signify faith, charity, innocence, and is thought to enhance personal integrity, and thought to help focus one’s attention.
Healers believe that it can reduce heart palpitations is a cure for dizziness and high blood pressure, and in the past has been used in skin creams to help diffuse small spots and scars.