What is the Mother of Pearl Shell Used in Home Decor Products?

Candlesticks out of Abalone Shell

Today many home decor and home furnishing products are produced using the natural material of mother of pearl. The production of the mother of pearl products has a long and rich history in many places including in Vietnam.

Mother of pearl, which is also known by the scientific name of nacre, is a pearl layer on the inner layer of the oyster shell. This pearl layer of the oyster is taken off the outer oyster shell. Then the leftover inner pearl shell is cut into various small shapes and sizes to then be glued on to various home decor products as mirrors, boxes, trays and lamp bases.

Here is a video about how the Mother of Pearl pieces is placed onto a product. You can see how every single piece must be placed on by hand.

Making a Mother of Pearl MIrror - F... x
Making a Mother of Pearl MIrror - Factory Tour

When a person purchases a mother of pearl box or tray or another home furnishing or home decor item, it is truly a work of art. It can be said that the mother of pearl material is a gift from the ocean or river beds for us to use to decorate our homes.

What is the mother of pearl shell?

The mother of pearl shell is a beautiful natural material that can be used for a variety of production. What t is also amazing about this material is its natural properties to make it not only beautiful but also durable.

The mother of pearl shell can best be described as the inner shell of the oyster. Some people call it the composite of nacre on the inner oyster shell. But whatever the scientific name, the inner oyster shells give a beautiful inner lining to the oyster shell. What is interesting is that despite the fact that the mother of pearl has been used for many centuries as a decorative element, scientists today do not totally understand how this beautiful, yet durable inner pearl layer is formed inside the shell of an oyster.

What they do know is that this inner shell that is formed and commonly known as the mother of pearl is hard and durable yet with natural beauty. And that for many years this pearl has been a prized form of manufacturing decorative objects.

Pink tone mother of pearl
Mother of pearl that has a pink tone to it.

What is Vietnam’s history of the mother of pearl production?

The mother of pearl items are produced in many parts of Asia, but one of the places the artisans are considered experts in this kind of production is in Vietnam, especially in many of the handicraft villages in North Vietnam. We produce all our mother of pearl production in the villages in North Vietnam.

Vietnam has been producing the mother of pearl products for thousands of years. The traditional Vietnamese furniture all use the mother of pearl inlay in their furniture pieces. Many other traditional objects have also used the mother of pearl. Over the years, the mother of pearl production has become one of Vietnam’s top handicraft manufacturing.

White and pink mother of pearl
White and pink mother of pearl mixed together.

Where does the mother of pearl shells come from?

The shell of the mother of pearl comes from both the ocean and river. In Vietnam ti would be harvested from the South China Sea and also the river beads around Vietnam.

The mother of pearl used in our products is produced in oysters in a similar way that pearls are formed in an oyster. The reason why natural pearls are so much more expensive than the mother of pearl shell is that all oysters whether in the river or ocean will have some nacre coat or the mother of pearl on the inner lining of the shell, but not every oyster will form a natural pearl.

The forming of a pearl in the shell is essentially a reaction that the oyster is having to something being in the shell, like a speck of sand or something else. That is why in many places in the world that are harvesting pearls they may put something in the shell to cause this irritation so that the pearl will be formed.

How are the small shells cut?

Before the mother of pearl can be cut into the required size or shape, the nacre layer or the layer that we know as the mother of the pearl layer, must be taken off the back of the shell. This is usually done through an acid and sanding combination.

Once the layers have been separated then the pieces can be cut and polished into each individual shape that will be used in the mother of pearl production.

Though some craftsmen may cut the mother of pearl pieces by hand, today most of this production is done by precision machines. I have seen the mother of pearl suppliers come with their bags full of the mother of pearl all polished and ready to be put on an object. Each large bag would hold a different shape of the mother of pearl

So deciding on a new mother of pearl shape for a product means the mother of pearl material supplier needs to set up his machines to cut the new shape for us. If and when they can cut a new shape will depend on the machines they have and if they shape we require can actually be cut into mother of pearl

White mother  of pearl
A white color mother of pearl with a golden look to it.

Is every piece of mother of pearl really put on by hand?

The production of the mother of pearl products is extremely labor-intensive. Every single piece of the mother of pearl must be glued on by hand.

Not only does it need to be glued on by hand but it must be glued on correctly. For example, if required, every piece must line up and be extremely straight and in the correct position. When you look at a mother of pearl item and you see all the small pieces, you need to realize that every single small piece of the mother of pearl has required hand labor.

What are the colors of Mother of Pearl?

The mother of pearl shell will naturally come in a variety of colors. Here are the basic colors of the mother of pearl shells:

  1. White – The white shell is one of the more common shells. Some of the white can almost have a golden kind of tones to them.
  2. Pink – This is similar to a pink pearl, and the color of these shells are predominately pink.
  3. Abalone – Abaolojne color is the more difficult to find so it can be the most expensive for the mother of pearl but it does give a very nice color combination.
  4. Dyed – Just like we have dyed some horn, we can also dye mother of pearl to some of the basic colors as blue, red, orange or green.
Abalone shell
Abalone shell.

What are the best ways to use the Mother of Pearl on products?

When looking to design or place the mother of pearl on a product, there are a few rules that should be remembered:

  • Mother of Pearl is a natural material – Mother of pearl is a natural material. Because it is a natural material, there will be variations in the product itself. Meaning that not every white piece will be 100% white, or every pink piece will be exactly the same color pink. We try to match up the colors as much as we can for our products but the mother of pearl is still a natural material.
  • Larger mother of pearl pieces do best on flat surfaces. – The larger the mother of pearl piece, the better it is to secure the piece on a flat surface. The reason is that the mother of pearl piece is relatively flat. If the surface is round you can still use the mother of pearl material but instead of the large pieces of mother of pearl, the pieces then should be smaller.
  • For a higher-end look in mother of pearl, cover in acrylic – One of the great things about mother of pearl products is they are highly durable. The mother of pearl has properties that make it highly durable and able to withstand a lot of different things, even heat. We cover a lot of our mother of pearl in acrylic. This gives it a very nice high-end look and a very smooth looking finish. This is also more expensive than just the regular mother of pearl as it has acrylic on it, but it is also a very nice clean and smooth finish. But for any acrylic topcoat, the surface needs to be flat like a box, a tray or a square lamp base.
White mother of pearl
White mother of pearl with some lacquer between the mother of pearl

The mother of pearl is a very versatile yet natural product. Not only does it have some wonderful natural properties that make it very durable, but it is also beautiful.

Related Questions

What is the difference between a pearl and a mother of pearl?

Both a pearl and the mother of pearl is formed by the oyster and on the oyster shell. The main difference is that the pearl is formed because some kind of foreign object as a speck of sand gets into the oyster and this irritation of the sand speck causes the oyster to form a round case around the foreign object, which we call a natural pearl. This pearl will rise up form the shell of the oyster. The mother of pearl material is on the inner shell of the oyster itself.

How can you tell if the mother of pearl material is real?

Once it has been placed on an object it can be hard to know f the material is real or plastic. But the real mother of pearl is not that easy to copy into plastic due to the iridescent properties of the pearl itself. But the easiest way to tell if the mother of pearl is real is to look at the material itself. Each piece should not be perfect, in that there will be some variations in color and texture. A natural mother of pearl will have some variation due to the fact the material is natural.

Are Abalones shells the same as the mother of pearl shells?

We classify Abalone as part of the mother of pearl shells as the manufacturing of Abalone shells in home decor products is the same as the mother of pearl shells production. The shell would be cut, glued and treated the same as the mother of pearl shells. The main difference is this is a different type of species and so the shells they produce have a slightly different look to them. The Abalone shell does not often produce a pearl inside its shell.

Anita Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Hummel. I am the President of Mondoro. I am passionate about helping you CREATE, DEVELOP, and MANUFACTURE home decor and home furnishing products. I am also an avid blogger with a love of travel and riding my motorcycle around the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

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